Friday
Jun302017

Help! Moving Has Wrecked My Marriage. Tips From a Couples Counselor on How Your Relationship Can Survive a Move

If you moved recently then you understand how stressful moving can be and perhaps you have seen the toll it can take on your relationship. I have many clients who relocate and report that their marriage suffered. This is confusing because a move is usually planned, sacrificed for, and wanted. So why do couples report an increase in fighting; feelings of sadness, anxiety, numbness, depression or rage; a decrease in sexual or sensual interactions; or even feelings of apathy creeping into their marriage after a move? Did the move ruin their relationship? The answer in no - or perhaps I should say that moving does not have to ruin your partnership. 

 

Moving is stressful. I believe it is one of the more stressful things a couple can experience. This is because change (any change, even a wonderful change) equals stress. Human beings, for the most part, do not like change. At a primal, emotional, gut-reaction level, change equates to “I don’t know how to stay safe.” When you move, you are putting yourself into a position where everything is new and changed and, therefore, everything is stressful. 

 

In addition to all the stress, are the many, many losses that you are grieving after you move. You have left friends and maybe family (the support network that you connected with daily). Your routine is gone - you no longer have the familiar coffee shop, grocery store or the sounds on the street that surrounded you for the past 2, 5 or 25 years. Your job is gone. And even if you have the same job you most likely have a new office, new colleagues and a new commute. Your house is gone with all its comforts and familiarity. Your kids’ schools are gone - with new ones to learn and new friends to make. Doctors, mechanics, dentists and all the supports that you counted on for when things broke are gone. In short, your list of losses is huge. Don’t underestimate the emotional toll this takes.

 

After a move, we have a couple who is stressed out and grieving. They are flooded with these big emotions and are without their usual support systems. The questions I ask all my couples include: how were you taught to deal with big emotions, and what model did your parents show you about coping with emotions, especially stress and grief? This parental model usually become our blueprint or our auto-pilot. We tend to slide into this auto-pilot when we are flooded with feelings and we react without thinking or planning. This is where couples get into trouble. This is where the fights begin.

 

Most people cope with big emotions in a few ways. They:

 

Control the Feeling
- These individuals want to get their minds around all the information, make lists, and lists of lists, and even spreadsheets of lists. The internal statement might be “if I can get all the information about this move in an organized way this feeling will go away.”

 

Ignore the Feeing
- I call this option the Netflix reaction. These individuals shut themselves off, consciously or unconsciously, from their feelings. They become numb or apathetic, and sometimes deny that they are feeling anything at all. The internal statement might be: “if I ignore this feeling it will go away.”

 

Get Angry
- These individuals want to find someone to blame and punish for their feelings. They want to fight. Their internal statement might be: “this is all your fault and if I can get you back and make you pay, this feeling will go away.”

 

Take Action
- These individuals seek out places where they feel empowered instead of helpless and take actions to feel better. Their internal statement might be: “if I take action this feeling will go away.”

 

Feel the Feeling - These individuals allow whatever feelings they have to arise and move through them. They find safe places where they can cry, laugh, yell, or hide. Their internal statement might be: “If I let these feelings out then I will feel better.”

It is important to note that we employ all of these strategies with our emotions. We just use them at different times or cycle through them until we find relief. Yes, some are more constructive or effective than others but most of us, when flooded with emotions, are operating on auto-pilot and reacting instead of choosing an action.

 

The tricky part of a move with your spouse is that while you are utilizing one strategy to cope with all the stress and loss, your partner is also using one of these strategies to keep themselves above water. However, it is rare that individuals in a couple use the same strategy at the same time. This is worth stating again. It is rare and very unusual that you and your spouse will be in sync with how you are coping, processing and understanding all of the stress and loss involved in your move. And there is nothing more infuriating than having your spouse doing something different with their feelings - not to mention that their coping strategy usually gets in the way of your coping skills. 

 

To recap: moving is stressful, we cope with stress in a variety of ways and we rarely cope the same way our spouse is coping. The end result of this is feeling distance, anger, apathy, resentment and sadness toward our spouse. What is lost is the generosity, curiosity and humor that I believe are the hallmarks of a strong marriage. 

 

What do you do with this knowledge? How does this help you to prevent your move from hurting your marriage?

 

My hope is that this opens up a conversation between you and your spouse about your move. You now have the language to discuss how you both were taught to react to stress and my wish is that you can also talk about how you want to react to loss and change. I believe strongly that good communication is a key to a successful marriage. And sometimes it is the language itself that is missing.

 

If you recently moved or a contemplating a move and need some help talking though the effect it is having on your marriage please call for a free consultation. I can be reached at 720-551-8084 or at www.CouplesCounselingBoulder.com
Friday
Jun232017

How to have Great Married Sex

4 Steps to Keep Your Sex Life Alive After Marriage

by Ashley Seeger, LCSW

I recently had a couple come in to see me for premarital counseling - worried and terrified. Many married friends had told them that their sex life was about to die. And that after the honeymoon the arguments about when, how often, blow job, etc would begin. “Is it true?” they asked. They have a wonderful sensual and sex life and wanted to know how to keep it alive. 

 It is true that every couple’s sex-life goes through stages and that the “new couple sex” stage will end. Your sex-life will change, mature, get better and have downtimes over the lifetime of your marriage. But it is also true that you can have a strong sexual, sensual and erotic relationship that is vital, exciting and fulfilling.

How? With four simple steps.

1. Married Sex is Different Than “New Couple” Sex

Great married sex is about understanding that the two of you will have a lifetime of sensual and erotic experiences together. Some will be great, most will be OK and some will be bad. The most difficult piece of work is to make the majority of your sex, the OK sex, OK. This kind of sex happens when one person has a higher level of desire and the other person goes along for the ride.  

Most of the couples that I see have a deep belief that there is something totally wrong with their sex life if they have different desire levels. In fact this is totally normal - age, stress, hormones, injuries, and medications all have an impact on your sex drive and ability to orgasm. It is important to learn to navigate this OK sex with creativity, understanding and generosity.

2. Sex is More Than Just Intercourse

The goal for your sensual life together is to have a buffet of touch - intimate, erotic, intercourse, etc. And to know that just because you are touching in an erotic way does not mean that you have to have intercourse. It can be a very freeing feeling to disconnect the link between touch and sex. There may be times in your life where intercourse is not an option (broken leg, sprained back, babies, etc) but don’t let that stop you from having playful and intimate dates. Plan a date night with your spouse where you agree to a level of touch (intimate/erotic) and stay there without moving up the scale to sex. 

3. Scheduled Sex

 This is a great debate among couples - how can scheduled sex be sexy? I believe that when you schedule sex with your partner you are stating that your sensual life is important to you and that you want to carve time out for your partner. You are not just waiting to see if there is enough energy left at the end of the day to give him or her.  It also allows for anticipation to build as you get ready, pick special clothes and imagine all the what’s and when’s. Try scheduling a few sex-dates and see if it works for your relationship.

  4. Be Spontaneous 

 It always feels odd to counsel couples to schedule spontaneous sex - it seems impossible. But the spontaneity that I am referring to is not about when you have sex but what you do during sex.  Passion and desire stem from the unknown. It is important that each month you add something new to your sex life. I am not talking about a big “new” but rather a small “new.” A slight change to the position or location, change the rhythm, turn the lights on or off, say something kinky, or keep some clothes on. These small changes invite the unknown back into your relationship and keep passions alive.

There are many octogenarian couples who report having wonderful and satisfying sex lives. Most of us throw a wish into the universe when we hear that - “I hope that can be us.” It can be. But you need to allow your definition of sex and sexy to change. And, as always, talk with your spouse about these 4 steps, about sex and about your desires and needs. 

If you are having a difficult time communicating with your partner about your sexual desires please consider meeting with a couples counselor to help facilitate these important conversations. If you have any questions about this information or wish to schedule a free 20-minute consultation please contact me at 720-551-8084.

Monday
Jun292015

Wedding Jitters Explained

Are you feeling anxious about your upcoming wedding? Sick to your stomach? Having bad dreams? Does the sight of the dress fill you with dread? Feeling like you may have made a mistake saying yes - or proposing? 

If you answered yes, you are experiencing wedding jitters.  It is your subconscious telling you that something is not right and you need to listen to it. It may be that you are nervous about your own ability to be a husband or wife, anxious that your fiancé can’t be the spouse you need, or both.

Having wedding jitters does not mean that the marriage is doomed or that it is time to call off the wedding. But all jitters mean that an intervention is needed.  Something is making you anxious and you need to understand what it is. 

We all have an internal compass that guides us in our life and when we go against it there is a reaction. At first you feel a gentle tugging at the back of your brain; something does not feel right. You feel “off.”  If you pay attention to this feeling the cause or causes will slowly become clear. But if you don’t pay attention your subconscious will get louder and louder and the bad feelings begin to turn to physical symptoms - you may have bad dreams, difficulty sleeping, stomach issues, illness or even injuries.

I have worked with many brides and grooms who have had jitters and some that have had physical symptoms of anxiety and stress about their upcoming nuptials.  The work is focused on finding the cause of their “jitters” so they can clearly see what action is needed. 

I have outlined my own list of the main causes for wedding jitters. I hope it will help you to begin to understand where your anxiety comes from so that you can begin to take action and have the wedding and marriage you want.

1. The Wedding Day

Sometimes it is the wedding day itself that is the cause of anxiety. Having one’s entire family together for a day or weekend can cause a great deal of anxiety especially when there are divorces, step-parents, estranged family members, or just one particularly difficult family member. For other brides or grooms, wedding-day stress is about being in the spotlight. 

One bride I know, who was anxious about being at the center of attention, decided to get rid of the aisle at her wedding. She and her fiancé walked together into the middle of the cocktail reception and said their vows surrounded by friends and family. Your wedding does not have to be conventional - you can set it up so that it works for you.

In all instances I believe that getting support for your wedding day is essential. A counselor or wedding planner can help you create a plan for dealing with difficult family members and organize your day so that you feel safe and connected with your spouse. 

2. Becoming A “Wife” Or “Husband”

Our parent’s marriage is our blueprint for our own marriage. We learn from them how to argue, how to ask for our needs, and how to negotiate power in an intimate relationship. Some of us did not get an ideal blueprint to follow: we come from broken homes, homes filled with anger, violence, shame or neglect, or homes where there is little or no emotional intimacy.  

Sometimes when we become engaged the fear that we will become just like our mom or dad is overwhelming. It is important to remember that you do not have to mirror your blueprint.  You can choose any type of relationship you want.  But if you do not actively choose a different way of connecting or expressing anger, you will go on autopilot and fall back on familiar behaviors.

If this sounds like what you are feeling then what you need is to gain an understanding of your past so you can clearly define your future. Get support around understanding your own blueprint so you can then decide what you want to keep and what pieces of your parent’s marriage you want to get rid of. Once you have this, you and your fiancé can openly discuss your plan, goals and dreams for the marriage.

3. What Is The Plan?

Have you talked through the BIG items with your intended? A few of these Big items include: do we want kids and when, where do we want to live, how much money do we plan to make and how will we budget, how much time will we spend with our extended families, who is staying home with the kids, and how ambitious are we individually and how are we going to make room in the relationship for this ambition.  

When you talk through all of these questions a picture or plan for your marriage emerges. Many couples don’t discuss their overall plan before they get married because they either don’t know how to or because they already know there is a conflict and they don’t know how to find a resolution. 

If you have not discussed the Big questions with your fiancé this may be a source of your wedding jitters. There can be the illusion that these conflicts will all “work themselves out.” I will tell you from personal as well as professional experience that they don’t. But I do know that your anxiety will be greatly relieved by beginning this conversation. Consider finding a workbook or a couples counselor who can guide you through this discussion, help you set goals for yourselves, and teach you the communication skills you need to negotiate when your desires or needs differ.

4. Violence Or The Threat Of Violence

Violence is never OK. It is never, ever, ever, ever OK.  

If there has been violence, threats of violence, or shaming or controlling behavior in your relationship you need to seek the support of a therapist to better understand the dynamics of the abuse and why you choose to stay.

If you are questioning the relationship because there has been abusive behavior in the past, please listen to your instincts. Slow things down and find some support.  Abuse rarely only occurs once. It is a pattern of behavior that cycles through wonderful times and then abusive or controlling times. It will happen again unless there is an intervention.

5. Addiction

Addiction is not just about alcohol or drugs. We can become addicted to food, shopping, sex, pornography and even to a relationship.  Addictions reek havoc in a relationship - especially with trust. In some ways the addiction becomes a third person in the relationship. 

If your partner has an addiction there is also the possibility that you feel like you are what holds this person together. And that without you they would fall apart or perhaps become depressed or suicidal which can leave you feeling trapped. This is a very difficult way to begin a marriage.

If you are having doubts about getting married because there is an addiction or addictive behavior then information is your most important intervention. AA and Smart Recovery are two wonderful organizations that provide information, literature, meetings and support groups. You will begin to understand what is an addiction, how to live with an addiction, and how to be in a healthy relationship with an addict.  

Many people who struggle with addictions are in rewarding, supporting and wonderful marriages. It does not mean that your relationship is doomed but it does mean that your relationship will have unique challenges. You need to be able to make an informed decision about the relationship.  A psychotherapist or counselor who specializes in addiction is another great place to get information and support.

6. Difficult Family Relationships

When you get married you are creating a new family. In order for there to be room for this new family you must first separate from your family of origin (your parents). This sounds easy as I type it but I have seen many couples where this step gets messy.  Family dynamics and politics are complicated and unique.

If you are having doubts about your relationship because of messy, complicated family dynamics you need to make sure that you and your fiancé have strong communication skills.  You cannot change anyone else’s behavior, expectations or feelings but you can make sure that you and your spouse are a team. You need to be unified in your expectations, boundaries and message to others. A couples counselor is the best place to learn these skills and to come up with a plan of action to cope with the wedding day and every day after.

Problems will arise if your partner is not willing or able to do this very important step of individuating and creating a new family. It can be very lonely in a marriage where you don’t feel that you are a central player; resentment and anger can build up quickly.  Consider individual counseling so you can learn how to best ask for your needs from your partner and then couples counseling to help you both understand the need for boundaries and how to create them for yourselves. 

7. Cheating

Is there a history of cheating in your relationship? It is devastating to have your trust betrayed and forgiveness and healing each take a long time.  But trust can be rebuilt and relationships can be stronger after a betrayal. It makes sense for there to be anxiety about entering into a commitment when there has been an affair. The fear is there that “once a cheater, always a cheater.”

I don’t believe this sentiment. But I do believe that you both need to understand what caused there to be an opening in your relationship for this third person; was it something in your dynamic together or was it something solely within the person who cheated.  A psychotherapist or couples counselor can help greatly with this process.

8. Sex

Sex is a complicated topic. It is central to an intimate relationship but it can feel almost impossible to talk about. Sex becomes an issue in a relationship when it is either too intense or there is no intensity at all. For some, it can be overwhelming to look at their current sex life and think that it might remain the same for the rest of their lives. And without open lines of communication and the skills to devise a plan, you begin to doubt whether you can stay committed forever.

Again, it is communication and knowledge that are the keys to alleviating this stress.  You need to know what “married sex” is and how it differs from “new couple” sex. Don’t walk away until you can learn and discover more about your own and your partner’s sensuality. A couples counselor or sex therapist is a good place to begin.  I also recommend the “Better Sex Video Series - Sexplorations” by the Sinclair Institute (http://www.sinclairinstitute.com) to almost every couple I work with as a teaching tool about how to talk about sex. Also read my blog post on how to have great married sex.

9. Illness

It can be terrifying when you find out that someone you love dearly has an illness.  You can be flooded with so many difficult questions: how long will we have? how bad will it get? will I have to be the caretaker and if so what happens to my needs, dreams and desires? will my children inherit this illness? 

If you or your fiancé has an illness and you are questioning if the relationship can work you need more information.  A joint visit to the doctors office can give you both a chance to ask questions and gather important information. Then a visit with a couples counselor can help you both fully express your fears and feelings, and help you to listen empathically to the the other’s feelings.  

We all want to know how our stories will end - and we want to know now. We want to know before the wedding if our marriage will last 50+ years. It is very scary to make any decision about the rest of our life when we don’t feel we have all the answers. And when we feel jittery or anxious about a big decision we usually ask family members for reassurance. We ask if these feeling are “normal” and if they had these before they married. They will usually tell us this is all normal, to go ahead with the wedding, and reassure us that everything will be OK. This rarely gets rid of wedding jitters.

The very best thing that you can do to alleviate the jitters is to get more information and open the lines of communication with your fiancé. Beginning this conversation may not remove all the jitters but solutions and paths forward will emerge. Also, consider using a couples counselor or individual psychotherapist to help. The best outcome would be that you gain:

 - the vision to know your needs

 - the ability to ask for your needs bluntly

 - the skills to express your feelings openly and be heard without judgement

 - the perspective to be able to see the truth of your relationship and not just the fantasy of it potential alone

With these you will be able to choose your partner with confidence, plan your wedding with excitement and joy and have the marriage you want and need. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to schedule a time to meet.

Monday
Jun022014

Your Ongoing Fights Might Actually be Killing You

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to go live on the BBC World News with Katty Kay to talk about my passion - strong marriages. We talked about a recent study showing that ongoing conflict in your close relationships increases your mortality rate by two to three times. 

While these findings are shocking, they also make sense. Consider how much a bad fight with your spouse can ruin your day - you feel jittery and uneasy, lose your appetite, lose sleep, and can have difficulty concentrating. These are all strong physical responses to an emotional event. This study looked at the direct impact that these emotional responses have on our health. They found that mortality rates increased substantially for middle aged men and women who lived with ongoing conflict in their marriages.

More and more studies are showing how our stress levels directly impact our physical health but most studies have been about work stress, lack of sleep and poor nutrition. I am thrilled that the researches are finally looking at how stressful emotional coflict is and how dramitically it impacts our lives.

I don’t think that we can live conflict-free in our marriages. Anger, sadness, frustration and all of these “conflict” emotions are normal part of the experience of marriage and families. However, we can learn healthy ways to deal with these negative emotions that do not result in trauma to our relationship or to our health.

As I told Katty Kay, the very best way to deal with ongoing conflict is by learning a simply strategy for empathic listening. When your partner is telling you that they are frustrated - repeat back what they said using a phrase like “let me get this straight, you feel…” There is a great sense of satisfaction when we feel heard. There is also an opening up, calming down, and centering that takes place when we hear our own words coming back at us. And that soothing that can take place in the midst of conflict might even save your life.

If you need to learn more strategies for conflict resolution please contact me here. You can watch the BBC conversation here.

The study and articles that were referenced in the interview can be found at:

Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27327325
Study: http://jech.bmj.com/content/68/8/720

Monday
Sep302013

How Your Expectations Shape Your Marriage

Expectation is a powerful force and it shapes our moments and our lives in profound ways. It also shapes our relationships. If you can harness the power of expectation, you can dramatically change your relationships and your life.   

If I were to give you something to eat and I told you that it was going to be sour, like a sour pickle, you would prepare yourself for a sour taste. But what if the bite I gave you was sweet instead, like a sweet pickle? What happens when you get something unexpected? It usually tastes bad - it sometimes even tastes sour because we are so expecting “sour.” Our preparation for an experience (imagining the sour taste to come) is the beginning of that experience. It sets the stage for the experience to happen.

But what do pickles have to do with my marriage? 

Well, lets imagine that your spouse is usually late to events and the lateness usually results in a fight. Imagine that you have dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant with friends (on-time friends). If you just “know” that spouse will be delaying, dawdling or procrastinating getting ready, you are most likely preparing for the fight to come as you get ready. You are already imagining what you will say in the fight and how frazzled you will feel as you arrive late to the restaurant. 

As you imagine the frazzled and angry feelings, you actually begin to feel frazzled and late even though you still have an hour before you have to leave. Enter your innocent spouse - on his or her way to shower to be ready, early, for the event. Your already frazzled self angrily asks: “why are you always late?” and “why do we always have to rush?” I can imagine the fight that follows - exactly like past fights and then you really are late to the party. 

You were so prepared for that sour pickle that no matter what happened, it tasted sour.

So how do we change our expectations? It is profoundly easy but at the same time it is the hardest thing you will ever do. It is difficult because we don’t recognize how profoundly what we are thinking about or feeling shapes our lives moment by moment. We don’t see how powerful we are.

When we change our expectations of our spouse we invite generosity into our marriage. Generosity means allowing your partner to change and not holding them hostage to past behaviors.  

I ask my clients what they just “know” about their spouse. Some know that their wife is always forgetful; some know that their husband is always disrespectful of their parents; and some just know their wife can’t be trusted with money because she always spends too much. Their work is to first change that word “always” to “sometimes.”  No one is “always” anything - but we are “usually” or “sometimes” lots of things.  When you change this one word in your thoughts and speech you allow for the possibility for something different to happen. This is a huge change.

The next step is to become mindful of your own expectations. Remember that once you begin to expect something you have already begun the experience. How are you shaping or coloring your experiences with your spouse? Do you arrive already on guard for the fight that “always” happens? Do you arrive ready to be disappointed? Or do you arrive ready for a loving and connecting evening together?

Once we recognize what we have been expecting from our partner, we can then imagine what we want to expect and how we want to feel in the relationship. I think that using the phrase “wouldn’t it be nice if...” can help.  Wouldn’t it be nice if he were on time? Wouldn’t it be nice if she applied for that new job? When you say this phrase you begin to expect this nice new thing. You begin to feel how that would feel; you begin that experience. You are expecting something sweet.  

And the funny thing about expectations is that you usually get what you expect. How great to get more sweetness, love and joy in our marriages.

If you have any questions about expectations or about marital counseling please contact me here.