I have recently had many conversations with individuals who have experienced change in their life that resulted in change to the roles they were used to playing. Perhaps all the children have moved out of the house and the role of parent has shifted. Perhaps job loss or school closure have led to new roles of income provider, or school teacher.
As we find ourselves going through life, we play many roles and wear many hats between personal, family, social, and professional lives, we use these areas of our lives to define who we are, what we like, and how we evaluate our self worth. While roles we play can offer a sense of security, and direction, they are often misunderstood as who we are and what makes us unique.
It is important to distinguish that the roles we play DO NOT make us who we are. We are separate beings outside of these roles. The role of Mother or Father are often ones that tend to consume our identity and while we may take great pride in honoring that role, it is important to note that we have needs and wants outside of these roles. When we let the roles we play become our identity, we lose the internal means of guiding our lives.
Using the example of a solar system; The Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around with the Sun and the gravitational pull as the guide for how the whole system functions. If we were to pluck the Sun out of the center of the system, the whole system would fall apart and cease to exist. When we use the roles we play such as (mother, father, our occupation, or other) we are making that the center of our system. However, what happens when that role changes, or goes away? Everything we have used to define ourselves no longer functions and we find our system fallen apart. Emotionally and mentally this feels as though our entire world has changed, and it feels that way because of how much power we gave to that role to define us.
Rather, if we understand that we are separate from the roles we play, then we create a system that supports change, and makes it easier to go through hard things or rather big changes in our lives with more acceptance, patience, and hope for the future. Rather than using roles for the center of our identity, we use values and core beliefs that create a foundation in every other area of our lives that can never crumble nor become life shattering.
If you have found yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or unsure of how to guide your future, it may be due to overlapping roles and unclear values. Despite your current situation everyone can learn to better balance their lives, the roles they play, and bring more happiness into your life.
I’ve been talking with a lot of clients about narratives lately – the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Narratives are powerful and shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t talk about sex, or spoke of it in negative or fear-based terms, that creates a powerful narrative. Just a few of the examples I’ve come across:
Sex is bad, I’m having sexual thoughts/feelings, so I’m bad.
Sex is embarrassing.
Only “those kind of people” are interested in sex.
I want/think about sex too much.
I want/think about sex too little.
I don’t have to right kind of body to be sexual.
Sex is too embarrassing to talk about with my partner.
Many of these narratives are powerful enough on their own, but they often get attached to painful emotions which heightens the power they have over us. If you are struggling with an unhelpful narrative surrounding sex, give yourself a break. You aren’t broken. You’re doing the best you can with the narratives you’ve been given. The good news is that we can change our narratives around sex – much like forging a new path through a forest – we can create narratives that lead to increased peace and pleasure. Some examples:
Sex is good, and pleasurable and multipurpose. My sexual thoughts and feelings are natural and I can choose to engage with those thoughts and feelings in ways that are right for me.
Sex feels embarrassing sometimes, because it’s not something I have practiced talking/thinking about yet. The more I talk about it with myself/my partner, the easier it will get.
Sex is a normal human experience.
However much I think about or want sex is the right amount for me. Everyone has a different erotic template, and that’s okay.
All bodies deserve pleasure in life, there is no such thing as a “right kind of body”. My body is good, and I appreciate it for its real ness.
My partner can’t read my mind, so if I tell them what I enjoy sexually, we will both have a more satisfying experience.
Most of us have inherited unhelpful sexual narratives, this doesn’t mean we have to hold onto them throughout our lives. If you are feeling stuck in your sexual narratives, and need help overcoming them, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice.
Sometimes, in conservative cultures, there is sexual shame attached to the usage of pornography. Listen in to hear the brain science behind pornography use, as well as how to navigate the topic of pornography as a couple, family, and society. Visit the link below or listen on your favorite podcast platform.
In my own experience, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time avoiding a normal and healthy human experience – having emotions. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to connect to their emotions. I am a firm believer that you cannot give away what you do not have. With that being said, I am on my own journey to connect with myself and others more deeply. Learning to manage emotions, vulnerability, and honesty are essential skills learned at home. Growing up, I was not taught these skills. I have spent my adult years learning how to experience and process emotions with healthy expression. There are many different ways one can learn to manage emotions and identify feelings.
Family therapy is an excellent approach. It is common for families to fall into dysfunctional communication patterns with each other. Typically, people fall into these traps to avoid feeling. This can feel more comfortable in the moment; however, it is not beneficial to the person or the family in the long run. Facing emotions and connecting with others can feel scary and uncomfortable. It does not always look pretty and can be messy. Having a therapist guide the process can make it more tolerable and give family members greater insight into what is not working and to what is working in the family system.
Below are examples of dysfunctional communication techniques that families fall into instead of being honest with one another. All of these communication techniques are ways to avoid emotions and confrontation. When I learned to identify these patterns, I discovered I was also missing out on connection, love, and intimacy with my family members and other loved ones. This awareness has helped improve my relationship with myself and others. As you read through these examples, I encourage you to ask yourself if you identify with any of these patterns. If so, then ask yourself, “what am I missing out on in my relationships?”. When a therapist asked me these questions, it struck a chord within me, and I realized some things needed to change. I hope this can be a good start for whoever needs to read this, as it was to me.
The Blame Game
Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience.
Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”
Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”
Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.
Partner (1): “I do not like the way you made our bed. It needs to be done this way.”
Partner (2): “I was trying to help; I knew you would be busy this morning”.
Partner (1): “Thanks, but it’s not done the way I like it.”
Changing the Game
Deflecting from the issue or question.
Caregiver: “I told you that your room needs to be cleaned before you can go to the movies with your friends”
Child: “Jane hasn’t cleaned her room and she is out with her friends”
Playing the nice guy
Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.
An example of this would be a mom that confided her young adult child about her fight with his dad. The child listens and comforts his mom even though he feels uncomfortable and now feels pressured to take sides.
Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.
Brother: “Mary is always fighting with mom and getting her way because mom is scared of her”.
Sister: “Yeah, it’s annoying and mom just lets it slide”.
Most couples get married in their twenties. In Utah, the statistics show marriages occur in their early twenties, or even late teens for some women. Research suggests our beliefs change over our lifespan, including our religious and spiritual convictions. No matter the reason, it is extremely common for one partner (or both) to change their religious views over time. Because religious beliefs in Utah (primarily members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) require strict adherence, stress from a spouse questioning or leaving the faith can create tension and pressure on the relationship.
The irony is, LDS theology promotes the importance of the family, yet, when such stressors encumber the relationship, it’s the marriage that suffers at the hand of obedience or compliance. Many couples experience a form of betrayal, fear, or disruption of intimacy and connectedness. Some of my clients report the grief of losing the assurance of their eternal marriage, feeling the risk of an affair, substance use changes or experimentation, or other unwanted behaviors.
A faith transition, however, isn’t a predictor of the failure of the relationship. With time, support, and tools, couples often unify and strengthen their relationship. Couples find shared values and bond by moving into a space of curiosity, openness, and acceptance while also validating and “holding space” for their partner.
Wasatch Family Therapy is hosting a group for five couples currently struggling with a mixed-faith marriage. Group meetings occur each Wednesday starting March 3rd at our new address in Sandy. Couples will need to be interviewed (to make sure it’s a good fit) and will need to pay half upfront; the remainder billed after the eight sessions. Sessions are $75 per couple per session. This group will be a “process group”, where couples participate interactively learning about each other. The group will be facility lead by Jeff Lundgren, ACMHC, who works with many couples and mixed-faith marriages and families.
If you want to participate, please contact us at 801-944-4555.
As you’re likely all too aware, couples can struggle with many key issues in their marriage. For example, differing perspectives on how to discipline the children are common. Rapport with the in-laws (or the lack thereof) is not unusual. Religious and faith journeys are fairly common discussions for couples in my counseling office. How your spouse spends his or her time when not at home is also a challenge for many couples.
However, likely the bigger problems arise from our views on how to manage money. Perhaps even more challenging is our views on sex and affection. Getting our needs met in these critical areas of our marital relationships can seem daunting if not overwhelming.
** Please note that the examples I utilize in this blog are a compilation of many conversations and also not real names.
Money—Balancing the Relationship Budget
As a counselor that has worked with couples for many years, I find that disagreements about money are common in most relationships. Whether its about how to spend our income on a daily basis. Or how to save for the future, next years vacation, or even for retirement, men and women can just see things differently. Over the years I’ve used an example regarding going back to school (pre-COVID!) that has proved helpful.
In our example, Ricky* (* not his real name) is 13 and is about to begin his first year of middle school. Ricky and his mom go to a local store to purchase school clothes for him. Ricky’s mom and dad have recently agreed on a budget for both he and his siblings clothing budget. They feel comfortable with the amount they’re spending and finally feel that they’ve made progress. That sounds great right? Absolutely, until the unexpected happens, which seems to happen often with busy families.
Please know that the back story here is that Ricky’s parents were raised in homes that see money vastly different. Ricky’s mom was raised in an affluent home where money challenges similar to my example were just NOT an issue. Meanwhile, Ricky’s father was raised in home where money challenges and balance were common.
Ricky loves to skateboard and has done so for several years. He is boarding with friends when he takes a spill and tears the knee out of his new school pants. These are his favorite pants and Ricky is devastated as he considers telling his parents. He musters up the courage and tells his mom who responds essentially “don’t worry, we’ll get you a new pair before school starts.” He is relieved and feels better. Later that evening when his mom and dad discuss the issue, his father is pretty upset by his wife’s perspective. He reminds her of the budget they’d both agreed to live by. How important not waffling on their new spending plan is to him. He states that we need to “just patch the pants” and send him to school. Besides, Ricky needs to learn to be “…responsible and take care of his things.”
What would you do to balance the relationship “budget???”
Sex – Balancing the Relationship’s Affection Needs
As if understanding your wife’s perspectives on money isn’t challenging enough, another area maybe even more key. That area is sex, which I like to refer to as overall “affection” in the relationship.
While working with couples regarding their romantic and sexual needs, one thing has become very apparent. Men and women just see sex differently. While I’ve used many examples to discuss sex with couples in counseling, one has seemed particularly germane for this blog. Tim and Sandy* (* not their real names) have been married for 5 years. They have a 3 y/o daughter who goes to daycare while her parents are working. Tim is a local school Vice Principal and Sandy is the head of Human Resources at a local, fast growing start-up company.
Tim and Sandy want to have a relationship that balances in most areas. However, their sex life seems to be one of their biggest challenges. For example, recently Tim was feeling extra close to his wife and that having connective sex that night sounded great. When he included some heart emoticons in texts to his wife during the day, she said supportively she would talk to him when she got home. Over dinner, Sandy mentions to her husband that although interested, she’s really tired but would love to get together tomorrow night. Tim finds her response to be supportive and feels understood.
The following day Sandy anticipates a busy day at work. She drops their child off at daycare and makes sure to plan her day well. Sandy also remembered her commitment to her husband and made a focused effort to think emotionally connective thoughts about him, e.g., he’s a great husband, great support, great lover. As the day moves on, Sandy is feeling really good about the prospect of spending some quality time with her husband. Later that afternoon, Sandy receives a text from her boss regarding a meeting she was to attend with her CEO tomorrow. Her boss notes that the team member who was going to present was being tested for COVID and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. This means she is now presenting and would need to have it ready by 9 AM tomorrow morning. Although the meeting may end up being virtual, please plan on attending in their corporate offices.
While Sandy feels encouraged that her boss would ask her to fill in, there is a problem. She now will be up much of the night preparing for the critical presentation. She is also really disappointed that she won’t be able to give her relationship the time it so desperately needs. She considers all options but ultimately decides to ask her husband if they can spend time together tomorrow night. How will he react? Will he feel hurt or dismissed?
What would you do to balance the relationship’s “affection” budget?
Balance is the Key
Whether Tim feels hurt or dismissed will depend on how he believes the relationship has been overall previous to this challenge. Let’s say that both he and Sandy have worked on keeping their relationship open and honest. Then likely Tim won’t feel dismissed and he will be able to weather this potential hurricane of negative feelings and resentment. Meanwhile, Sandy won’t feel guilty that she is asking for some relationship latitude but rather also feel understood and appreciated. Do you see a positive pattern here? Absolutely!
It has been my experience that open communication is the key. Being able to have critical conversations safely that may not be easy but will benefit the relationship’s sex and affection needs. Other keys include:
* Trust. Building trust includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing that your spouse will allow you to share her opinion without feeling judged or questioned for her perspective. Trust is particularly important for a woman as feeling emotionally safe and close to her husband is often contingent on trusting him deeply.
* Respect. When couples trust each other then it is quite natural that a deeper level of respect will likely also follow. Thus trust and respect go essentially hand in hand resulting in a marriage where connective conversations can naturally occur.
* Love. You can love your partner but not necessarily trust or respect them. The oft used adage of “Love Conquers All” isn’t always true particularly regarding trust related to money and sex. Couples that have nurtured trust in their relationships report a deeper level of commitment to the relationship. Essentially, that my spouse “has my back!”
What’s Next? Achieving Balance
Whether you struggle with discussions regarding money or sex really isn’t the question. Many couples struggle in these key areas. The most important thing is to be able to move forward through the challenges. Increase trust, respect, and ultimately the love in the relationship. Here are 3 suggestions to achieve these relationship goals.
First, absolutely set goals to communicate openly and often. I typically assign the couples I work with to have a “check-in” each day. It doesn’t have to be long BUT it does need to be more than just “how was your day?” Ask questions that support each others challenges. For Tim as a Vice Principal, empathic questions related to returning to school may be most germane. However, the key is that the communication is open to ANY thing that seems important to the partners in their marriage.
Secondly, I’ve often heard it said that “couple’s that play together, stay together.” That has been my experience particularly when couples play often and in ways that connect the relationship. Couples can connect each evening. Couples can “play together” on the hiking trail. On the ski slopes, or on vacation, whether it’s in California or Park City.
And for the subject of affection in marriage, couples that play (connection/affection/sex) together often will stay together! It absolutely works and is worth working on in a loving ways.
Lastly, absolutely be flexible and recognize that plans change. And please totally be aware that just because your wife isn’t available for sex this evening doesn’t mean that she’s not into you. In fact, be aware that her asking to get together tomorrow night is likely totally sincere. She does want to be with you. Please take a risk and ask her (or him!). You may be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy. Michael has over 20 years experience in working with couples and families.
2020 has been filled with unpredictable outcomes and unknowns. Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work, and go to school. Stressful times can be challenging to navigate, and children do not always have the words to express their feelings. Children are prone to demonstrate maladaptive behaviors during hard times; regression is a normal part of development. Regression can look like increased separation anxiety, withdrawal, tantrums, potty accidents, disrupted sleep, and more. Children are perceptive, and they feel the effects of change. Here are some ways to help your child navigate these difficult times.
Children do not always know what they are feeling or how to communicate it. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to teach them. First, reflect their feeling to them and validate their emotion. “You look sad” or “It feels upsetting when you fight with your brother.” These are excellent ways to open up communication, and they know that you are there.
3 Check-ins per day
Setting aside a few minutes three times a day can be helpful for yourself and your child. This short time to connect can help create a stronger bond with your child. This time will teach them how to slow down their day and connect to themselves. During these moments, you can breathe together, tell each other how you feel, or use grounding exercises to become aware of the present moment.
Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach children healthy coping skills – parents/caregivers, take care of yourself! Be aware of how you are feeling and determine what you need. Take care of your own needs and demonstrate healthy habits to your kids.
Routines create predictability- which makes an environment feel safe for a child. Routines also help decrease negative behaviors. Together, come up with routines in the morning or at night that your child can look forward to, like reading a book before bed or taking a walk at the same time each day.
We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.
What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense, it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.
Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:
-Meditation and mindfulness exercises -Truth and distortion journaling prompts -Future self authoring exercises -EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma -Inner child work and attachment healing
As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.