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Three Questions to Ask Your Spouse Daily

Being a marriage therapist is an interesting and fulfilling profession. One unique aspect of this job is that people want to ask my opinion on a regular basis. When I attend wedding showers, the room gets eerily quiet when it is my turn to give advice to the bride to be. One piece of advice I give regularly and often, is to connect with your spouse on a daily basis. This can happen in many different ways, however I think that daily talk time is an effective and powerful way to increase emotional intimacy that will help you feel connected to your spouse. Many times life gets so busy we forget how to talk with our partner. Here are three questions that can jump start your daily talk time.

  1. What went well in your day today?
  2. What did not go as you expected?
  3. What are some ways I can help you tomorrow?

These questions open up a dialogue about your day and what went well and poorly. The last question helps your spouse feel that you are invested in their day going well and shows your support of that happening. If you feel that some growth is needed in your relationship I urge you to start daily talk time. Ten minutes a day can make a big difference in your marriage. Start with these questions and see where the conversation goes.

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What To Know Before Marriage

You’ve decided you want to be together forever. Now what?

Whether our relationships are old or new, there a few important topics that I believe should be discussed before long term commitment or marriage. At times, we think we know our partner inside and out. I have outlined four important topics that can be a starting point of conversation to set our relationships up for success.

How do we feel about kids?

Each partner needs to discuss what they are expecting in terms of wanting kids, not wanting kids, or how many kids each partner envisions. Does one partner only one or maybe two children while the other wants four or five? Once you have an understanding what each partner wants, you can discuss whether there is any flexibility in their wants. This should be an ongoing conversation with your partner as road bumps happen along the road, including infertility or that one partner no longer wants more children. What if one partner wants to change directions in their career and be a stay at home parent? These are all important things to not only talk about, but truly understand our partner’s wants and desires.

Conflict and Communication

SPOILER ALERT: Conflict will happen in your marriage! It is not whether you have conflict or not that determines if your relationship will last; it is how you handle conflict. It can be easy to develop poor communication habits with your partner. These bad habits can include stonewalling, holding onto resentments, or not giving your partner space when needed to calm down. If you’re developing any bad habits during your arguments, or are curious about your communication style, then it might be helpful to explore some resources.  The books Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson or Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman are a great starting place. You can also seek out a great couple’s therapist!

Time together and alone

When you are in the dating stage you often are inseparable and spend a majority of your time together. While this stage you are learning about each other it is also important to understand what time together and alone will look like once you get married. If our partner had weekly outings with friends to the club, outlets, rock climbing, or a weekend trip will this still be ok once we’re married? Is our partner used to going to the gym alone and has been doing this for years?  These various activities can be very important for our partner. If we think that after marriage we want them to change or adjust their habits and the way they spend their time then we need to communicate that now. We cannot expect them to just change while we stay at home and harbor resentment. While time together with our partner fosters a healthy relationship, we also need to foster relationships with friends and family. At times, we may need quality time with close friends or other family members too, or even just alone time to be with our self. It is okay for us to want these things as long as it is something communicated to our partner.

How is our partner allowed to talk with coworkers, friend etc.

When our partner is not with us they will be among other people at work, the gym, and friends. While this time spent with others is needed there are some important questions to discuss with your partner. 

  • What are intimate details of our relationship how or should be shared with others? How do we talk to others about our relationship? 
  • What constitutes an emotional affair for your or your partner? 

While every situation varies for each couple. It is important to understand what ours or our partner’s behaviors might be. The more we understand them and have conversations about what our relationship boundaries should be then the healthier our relationship is in the long run. If you would be hurt if your partner went to lunch with female co-workers then let them know. If it causes hurt when your partner comments on an ex’s post, let them know! Do not let these things fester and build until serious relationship difficulties come up. 

Conclusion

Communication with our partner is essential to building a healthy, lasting relationship.  When we have a conversation with our partner about the four topics discussed above and many more, we can then avoid resentment, future conflict, and have healthy boundaries in our relationship. If you would like more information about the topics above, a better understanding of your current relationship, or just want to have a safe place to discuss future and/or current relationship goals reach out to me at (801)-944-4555.

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Sex Therapy FAQs

Sex therapy is one area of mental health that doesn’t always get talked about.  Many individuals feel hesitant to bring up sexual concerns with their therapist, waiting until later in the therapy process to introduce the topic.  Others misunderstand what sex therapy is, and continue to struggle on their own. 

What is sex therapy?

Sex therapy is therapy to improve sexual functioning and treat sexual dysfunction.  Sex therapy can be done in individual and couples therapy. 

What happens in sex therapy?

Just like other areas of therapy, in sex therapy, the therapist will complete an intake process with the client to gather information on the nature of the problem and begin to create a treatment plan.  This plan might include goals about visiting with a medical doctor to rule out or diagnose medical issues.  

Is sex therapy safe for my value system? 

Just like other areas of therapy, your therapist is trained to be respectful of and work within their client’s values system.  If you have any concerns that the content of sex therapy might not fit within your values, talk to the therapist up front.  Talking about our sexuality with a therapist can be a new experience, and that might feel uncomfortable, but therapists want to make you feel as safe and at ease as possible. 

Will the therapist take sides?

The therapist’s job is not to prove one person right and one person wrong, but to explore the history and nature of the concern.  The therapist will help the couple or individual explore their beliefs and values surrounding sex, identifying and helping to shift harmful or inaccurate beliefs, and provide resources and educational materials. The therapist will create a safe, supportive environment as the clients create new, value congruent, healthy patterns of behavior. 

What can a sex therapist help me with?

A sex therapist can provide support, education and hope in creating sexual wholeness.  They can work with a broad range of sexual issues.  Desire discrepancy (where one partner has a higher or lower libido than the other), problematic sexual behaviors (particularly compulsive, or what are sometimes referred to as addictive behaviors), LGBTQ issues (orientation concerns, transitioning, or parenting), trauma, infidelity, “sexless” marriages, orgasm concerns, ED/premature/delayed ejaculation, painful intercourse, polyamory, kink, pornography concerns, or resolving spiritual/sexual conflicts. 

If you have been struggling with an area of your sexuality or sexual relationships, but have been hesitant to talk about it, schedule an appointment with Alice at 801-944-4555 today.  Sexual health is an important aspect of good mental health, and you do not need to suffer alone when there is hope and help available.

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Are We Compatible? We Fight!

If you frequent the many on-line resources (message boards, blogs, advice columns, podcasts, etc.) related to dating, specifically dating at a more “advanced” age, you will surely encounter at least one article about “compatibility” in relationships. What exactly does compatibility mean? If you read all the advice on the internet, this post included, then you’ll find that there is a wide array of opinions offered. Opinions range from the alignment of interests and goals to the notion that there can’t be any disagreements or conflicts within relationships. However, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary compatibility is, “being capable of existing together in harmony”.  Dr. John Gottman (2016), the world-renowned relationship researcher, described compatibility as, “Agreeability and conscientiousness are the characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.” These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may be wrong” during a disagreement.”

It’s always interesting to me that couples often fear that they are incompatible if they encounter conflict within their relationship. Conflict and the ability to address and resolve it are important aspects to relationships; it says a lot about the relationship’s strength when a couple or family is willing to confront the areas of conflict in their relationships. However, there is a myth perpetuated by society and the media that “healthy” relationships are conflict-free. That’s an unachievable expectation that can be dangerous to a connected relationship.

How can everyone’s needs be met if unmet needs can’t be expressed because it is seen as starting a fight? You’ll notice I changed the wording in my last question from conflict to fight; I’ve noticed that many times the two words are used interchangeably. Fight, typically, has a negative connotation that denotes a level of aggression or force, however. While conflict simply implies a disagreement. Often though, couples and families see any form of disagreement as a fight and it can feel dangerous to the relationships. I teach my clients that it’s important to recognize that you can have a conflict/argument/disagreement and the relationship can still feel safe. How can you safely have a disagreement? I believe that if couples can set up a few rules to how they are going to “fight” that they can maintain safety, not just physical but emotional and psychological as well. Below I’ve listed a few of the boundaries that I recommend couples start with while encouraging them to add their own personal ones that are relevant to their situations:

  1. Use “I” and “me”- if it’s important to you than make sure you are keeping it about who it is important to. “You” statements can feel very blaming.
  2. Keep the volume in check- while some people’s voices get very animated and the volume increases as they get elevated, regardless if it’s from excitement or frustration, it can be very scary. No yelling and screaming!!!
  3. Keep the language respectful. Personal attacks on character, name calling, mocking, being sarcastic, condescending, or patronizing are all ways that can leave people feeling devalued and demoralized.
  4. Telling your partner how they do or should be feeling. Everyone is entitled to their feelings regardless of whether they make sense to others. Use this as an opportunity to be curious about your partner and their experience.
  5. Timeouts aren’t just for kids. A negotiated and stated 20-minute timeout to re-group and calm down can do wonders for a disagreement while reinforcing the importance of safety in the relationship.

Conflict is an important part of relationships, as Dr. Gottman said they introduce diversity and make relationships more interesting. Additionally, they can be used as avenues to deepen our connections with partners by exposing and discussing vulnerabilities. However, for a conflict to be an opportunity to grow it must feel safe for both parties to express those vulnerabilities. Fight for your relationships and connections, not against them!

photo credit: canstockphoto.com – dolgachov

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Five Simple Steps to Keeping Romance Alive

If you are like me, you find “free time” to be almost a mythical experience. Then trying to create time for romance in your relationship, and it seems like we are living a straight fantasy. However, with today’s fast-paced world and technology every direction, it seems nearly impossible to have a truly romantic relationship. Often when I meet with couples, I hear, “We are more like roommates than a couple.” During my initial assessment and learning about the couple’s daily routine, I find that these couples are unintentionally avoiding what they want the most – intimacy.

    The best remedy for this lack of intimacy and romance is to make “intentional” time with each other and make changes that will create and maintain a loving and intimate relationship throughout the lifespan. Here are some of my prescribed remedies for keeping the romance in your relationship.

1-    Turn it off. Take the television out of the bedroom-this includes turning off the cell-phones. If you are not on bedrest, there is no need to have a T.V. in the bedroom. It takes away time that could be spent engaging in pillow talk, cuddling, kissing, and making love.

2-    Go on a date. It is fine to go to the movies now and then but when I say go on a date I mean GO on an intentional date where conversation can be had throughout. Take a long drive through the canyon, go on a picnic in the park or at a garden. Spending time together without a distraction of a movie or comedian allows time to rebuild intimacy and learn or re-learn about your partner.

3-    Hold hands. Staying close doesn’t have to be complicated. Touch is such a powerful tool for connection. Human touch is a basic primal need. We do not outgrow this.  Holding hands while watching your favorite show, walking around the neighborhood, or waiting for your table at a restaurant can create that closeness without a lot of effort.

4-    Don’t forget to play. Research shows that couples who play together have increased bonding, communication, conflict resolution, and report overall satisfaction in the relationship.  Play can be something spontaneous like a water fight while in the garden or tickle fight while doing housework, something planned like going bowling, or just sitting down for an old-fashioned game of cards. So, give yourself permission to get silly and be a kid again.

5- 5-second kiss. How often do you give your partner a quick peck goodbye in the morning or hello after work? Sure, that is nice, but it becomes routine and unpassionate. Holding a kiss for at least 5 seconds gives you that intentional purpose of showing your partner that you love them. This doesn’t have to be limited to saying goodbye or hello, you could engage in the 5-second kiss to say thank you for dinner or helping with the kids or just because you want to kiss.

These “remedies” are not a cure-all for all relationships. Sometimes there is an issue that goes a little deeper, and that issue is impairing your relationship. In that case, these simple steps aren’t where you need to start, and you may need to look into talking about it with a trained professional. If you need couples counseling, please call our office at 801-944-4555 to make an appointment. We are here to help.

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The Night I Forgot My Phone

We have all heard the saying “Disconnect to reconnect.” It is a bid to turn off electronics in an effort to become closer to the people in our lives. Recently, I had an opportunity to experience this. Over the holidays, we had a party at a family member’s home. As my husband and I were packing up our things, we looked around to make sure we had gathered all of our children’s belongings. We didn’t see anything and went home. After putting my children to bed, I looked around and realized I had left my phone at the party somewhere. For the rest of the evening and most of the next day, I was without my phone. I never realized how much I depended on, and looked at, my phone until I didn’’t have it.
 
That evening, before bed, there was no internet surfing, or YouTube watching. I simply read my book and went to bed. Since it was the holidays, I did not need to set an alarm and awoke on my own. As a reached for my phone to check my email and look at the weather, I realized I didn’’t have my phone. Throughout the day, I went to reach for my phone only to realize I didn’’t have it. Around noon was when the realization came that I looked at my phone for very stupid reasons and did it far too often.
 
I retrieved my phone at about three in the afternoon. The rest of the day I made a concerted effort to not look at my phone. By the end of the day, I felt more connected to my children, my spouse, and felt better overall. This could have been for numerous reasons, but I account a great deal of it to the decrease in my phone usage.
 
I recently watched a Ted talk by Collin Kartchner about phone usage/social media and children. It was a wake up reminder that our children need to feel important and loved. At times, our use of technology can leave them feeling unloved. At the very least, it sets a precedent that they will follow when/if they get a phone. When you have a few minutes, I urge you to watch it.
 
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uMb0wqTqE_4
 
How often do you look at your phone? Is it for mindless things or for work? Obviously our jobs require us to use technology to complete tasks for work. However, do we stay focused on our work and then turn it off? Or does that create an avenue for perusing the internet? I challenge you to leave your phone at home when you go on your next date night. Forget it at a friends house. Turn if off after dinner. Finish your work and then turn off your computer for he night. See if it makes a difference in the way you feel.
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Recovering From a Break Up

Recovering from a breakup can be a confusing time in life as your head and your heart struggle to get on the same page. You may have started grieving the loss of the relationship long before it ended, while family members and friends are just beginning to deal with their own feelings of loss. Your heart may be telling you to try again, while your head is filled with fears about suffering another loss. When we lose a partner to death, we are often given the social permission to dismiss their flaws and focus on their virtues. Losing a partner to a breakup can feel like the opposite, where we dismiss their virtues and focus on their flaws. Doing so often makes the recovery process difficult and longer than it has to be. Here are some helpful suggestions for navigating the process of healing from a breakup. 

1. Assume total responsibility for the break up. At first glance, this will seem counterintuitive. Here’s the logic: by taking 100% of the responsibility (not the blame) for the breakup, you assume 100% of the capability to heal from it. If your partner is even 1% responsible, that’s 1% of the recovery process that it beyond your control. 

2. Acknowledge the grief. By calling those emotions what they are, you increase your ability to understand them. By understanding what you are grieving (loss of the ideal relationship, loss of companionship, etc), you are able to determine what may motivate you to enter a new relationship too quickly. Remember, grief is a process. 

3. Normalize the experience. The reality is every relationship will end until you find the one that doesn’t. Each relationship will teach you something significant in preparation for the one that will last. As you approach each relationship as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how to teach you to another person, you will realize that breaking up is as normal as students failing a class, even with a gifted teacher, if they don’t make the effort to learn the material. 

4. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Nothing helps in the process of healing quite like gratitude. Can you be grateful for the experience? Can you be grateful for what you’ve learned? Can you be grateful that you are no longer tied to someone who wasn’t good for you? 

5. Treat yourself. Buy yourself one thing that represents all that you’ve gained from the experience. For example, get yourself that pair of shoes you’ve been wanting to remind you of all the strength it took to walk away or get yourself those Superman cuff links to remind you of the strength you’ve gained to reclaim your life. 

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Six Sexual Health Principles to Discuss With Your Partner

I often hear stories from men and women who discover their partner has sexual secrets. Sometimes those secrets involve pornography, sometimes they involve infidelity, sometimes they involve fantasy or sexual preferences. The individuals who share these stories with me often feel betrayed because the expectations they had about the sexual agreements within their relationship were not kept. The first problem to address is that most of the time, these sexual agreements were unspoken.

I want to encourage couples to make these unspoken agreements spoken. All couples should talk about their expectations for their sexual relationship. In order to facilitate this discussion, here are six principles that constitute healthy sexuality. Spend some time with your partner and discuss each one, what it means to each of you as individuals and how it relates to you as a couple. (One word of caution, avoid having this discussion during or after sex. Those times are likely to bring with them heightened vulnerability, which if the discussion is difficult in any area, can lead to increased defensiveness and conflict. The discussion will go much more smoothly if you schedule it for another time.)

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The following 6 principles of sexual health were developed by Doug Braun-Harvey. Learn more about his these principles in his books Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction & Sexual Health in Drug and Alcohol Treatment

1. Consent

Consent in this context means that someone has given permission for something involving their body to occur. Are there sexual behaviors in your relationship that you’d like your partner to ask specific consent for each time? Are there sexual behaviors that you don’t feel your partner needs to ask first? Talk about these, and create clear guidelines to shape how consent looks in your relationship. Remember that feelings about specific sexual behaviors can change, and it’s okay to change your sexual agreements in the future.

2. Non-Exploitative

Non-exploitative means that one partner does not take advantage or manipulate the other into sexual behaviors. This includes using power dynamics to coerce the other person. Are there behaviors that one partner participates in hesitantly? Use this opportunity to talk about what those behaviors mean to each partner. If there are exploitative behaviors in your relationship, this is an area where reaching out for help with a therapist may be necessary to resolve them and set healthy boundaries.

3. Protection from STIs, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy

If either person has had previous sexual partners, have they been checked for sexually transmitted infections or HIV? What is the plan surrounding birth control?

4. Honesty

Are both partners able to be fully honest about their sexual history, and is there room in the relationship to honestly discuss fantasy and sexual preferences?

5. Shared Values

Creating sexual agreements are crucial for couples, and the largest part of the discussion will likely revolve around values. What behaviors fall within your value systems as individuals and as a couple? If there are value differences, can you create workable compromises? If there are value conflicts within a relationship, a professional can help explore resolutions that feel workable to both partners.

6. Mutual Pleasure

Sadly, many individuals grow up with the idea that sex is something men like and women tolerate. When this is the background, women can feel used and resentful about sex, even when they’re otherwise happy in their relationship. Breaking out of this mindset is going to be difficult if the couple has not found mutually pleasurable sexual activities. If one partner wants a specific type of sex exclusively, and the other partner doesn’t enjoy that activity, neither partner will be able to truly experience the kind of sexual relationship that is fulfilling and strengthens the relationship.

If after reviewing these six principles, you find some areas that you and your partner need help with, schedule an appointment with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

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That’s So Meta

That’s So Meta

In couple’s therapy, one skill that I regularly work on with clients is increasing the ability to communicate effectively with their partner.  Sometimes our communications get twisted up with fears, expectations, and familiar patterns, which can be difficult to break out of. 

One tool that I find useful is to “go meta”.  Meta means self-referential.  Another way to view it is the thoughts we have about our thoughts (or our words).  

If you are feeling hurt that your partner forgot your lunch date, you might lash out at them in anger.  As you are lashing out, if you examine the thoughts in your head, you might discover that you are lashing out because you are angry and you are angry because you are hurt.  You are hurt because having your partner forget your lunch date triggers a fear response in you that tells you your partner doesn’t value you in the way you hope they do.  The story you are telling yourself, that your partner doesn’t value you is scary, and that fear drives the hurt and the anger to more speaking out in anger because it matters to you so much and you really want your partner to see your hurt, and in turn, see you.  

Speaking the meta means that instead of lashing out, you verbalize this internal dialogue.  You might try, “It really hurt me that you forgot about our lunch date.  I know you love me, but when things like that happen, part of me worries that you don’t really enjoy spending time with me.  That scares me, because spending time together is so important to me and really helps remind me how much you care”.  

Being able to share the fear that had previously remained tucked away inside your head creates vulnerability instead of anger, and reinforcing that the vulnerability is there precisely because your partner is so important to you helps create a place where your partner will also be able to express vulnerability rather than defensiveness.  

Next time you find yourself in a sticky spot with someone you love, examine the thoughts you have about the words you are saying.  Where are those words coming from?  You might find those thoughts give you greater insight into what the real issue is.  Figuring out the real issue is the beginning of greater effectiveness in your communication with your partner.  

If you and your partner could use help identifying these meta thoughts, and learning new ways to communicate with each other, schedule an appointment with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

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Are You Ready to Date?

Boy, has dating changed in the last 25 years! As a happily married person, I never paid attention to the struggles of my single contemporaries. However, as a widow of 3 years, I recently ventured back into the realm of dating and into online dating. Wow! That’s some culture shock for the uninformed. Now, I’m sure that there are people reading this that are wondering what my starting to date has to do with therapy? Well, since I am in the business of relationships, personal interactions, and self-concept, this is a very relevant topic as dating in this highly technological, swiping app, game of numbers age morphs these concepts into something much less personal…at least at first. How does someone that is unfamiliar with the “new” rules of dating venture in? I think it’s important to have a plan, not a set-in stone rigid plan, but a basic idea of what you want to gain from the experience.

What should this plan look like? What is your expectation? Are you wanting to meet friends? Date a lot of people casually? Get into a relationship? There are apps, groups, and websites devoted to all these scenarios plus any other variation that you can imagine. I’d suggest evaluating what your needs and wants are. Have you ever dated using the technological environment of today? Setting realistic expectations is important. Although you have access to many more single people than what you would likely have otherwise, there is still the need to weed out people that you feel would not be compatible with you or your lifestyle. For example, dating an atheist if you are very religious and seeking someone with the same quality. It would be unrealistic to expect someone to change their spirituality to such a degree…it’s an unrealistic expectation. Yet, it happens repeatedly in various forms, people often think that they will “change” a person.

What about the amount of time that you are going to dedicate to your dating endeavor? If you download the apps, you can be instantly and constantly connected to any potential “matches.” However, is this healthy? For me it wasn’t, I felt tethered and “on-call” all the time. A possible solution is to look at the website or app only from a computer or dedicate a set amount of time per day to dedicate to the search. Boundary setting early on can help alleviate the anxiety and stress that can accompany the online dating platforms and help you not feel so tied to an app.

What about when you do match with someone? Have you formulated a plan and appropriate boundaries within yourself to deal with inappropriate questions, comments, and expectations from strangers? What are you comfortable sharing with a virtual stranger? What information do you need to protect? What about meeting for the first time, do you have a plan in place to make sure that it’s a safe encounter? These are all things to be considered before any of those scenarios happen. Personally, I think that best advice I received concerning first meet-ups was to keep them short, make sure they are in very public places, and go in with no expectation other than talking to someone new for a few minutes.

You’ve made it to the first meet, and you are feeling self-conscious…yep, it’s almost like junior high all over again. How can you deal with the potential feelings of failure and rejection? Acknowledge them. I’d be amazed if anyone that has done an online dating meet or has been on a blind date hasn’t experienced these exact feelings; it’s natural to be nervous. Likely, the person you are meeting with is having these same emotions to some degree, why not just put it out there? This is a genuine and open expression of what is happening for you in the moment; be yourself, that is the person you want them to like.

Dating can be a scary and anxiety ridden experience. However, it can also be a fun “re-do” for something some of us haven’t done since we were teens. Setting reasonable expectations, having a good set of personal boundaries, and being self-aware can all help in making it a good experience rather than the nightmares you read about. Now, go be your best self, and get to dating!

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