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Common Unhealthy Family Dynamics

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.  

  1. The Blame Game   

Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience. 

Example:

Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”  

Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”

  1. Being Right

 Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.

Example:

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.” 

  1. 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”

  1. Playing the nice guy

Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.

Example:

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. 

  1. Gossip 

Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.

Example:

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”.

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Mixed-Faith Marriages

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.

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A Value Driven Life

This is the season of goals and change. Goals can be wonderful benchmarks to help navigate us toward the life we want. However, goals can sometimes lead us into rigid thinking, frustration, and shame when we aren’t connected to the value, or “why,” behind those goals. 2020 has taught us that the unexpected happens, and circumstances can change quite rapidly and drastically. However, even amidst uncertainty and change, you can continue to move in a direction that aligns with your core values. When obstacles beyond your control prevent a desired goal from occurring, it is possible to pivot and continue in the direction of the value connected to that goal in new, and possibly, unforeseen ways.


A helpful exercise is to sit down and journal all the values that matter to you. Some examples of these values are: curiosity, resilience, spirituality, love, empathy, safety, compassion, growth, learning, spontaneity, joy, humor, creativity, grace, flexibility, and so many more. As you review your listed values, I encourage you to narrow those values to your top three, and then, choose a top value to focus on for this year if one stands out to you. This will help guide decisions that arise throughout the year, as you return to your core value of focus, when navigating the nuances of life.

Goal Driven Life

  • I want to run a marathon.
  • I want to go on a vacation with my family this year.
  • I will complete my degree.
  • I want to stop yelling in my home

Value Driven Life

  • I will value health and determination
  • I will value adventure and connection with my family.
  • I will value education and lifelong learning.
  • I will value safety, connection, and mindfulness.

If you would like help focusing on the values that drive your life, please call 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment.

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Cautious Not Fearful…Brave and Afraid

Brene Brown has said “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave AND afraid at the exact same time.” (Emphasis added) 

After months of living through the pandemic, homeschooling two of my four children, having a newborn and busy toddler vying for attention during homeschooling, working over Telehealth, quarantining from family and friends, kissing my husband goodbye as he goes to works with sick people, and managing my own thoughts and anxiety about the world I have learned a very important lesson. You can feel brave and afraid at the same time

My emotional journey the last several months has been sporadic. At times, I have felt very hopeful and optimistic. Other times, I have felt sad and anxious. After experiencing an anxiety attack in April, I realized I had to change my thought process. My mantra became “cautious but not fearful.” I pushed fear away and decided to let hope reign supreme. Gone were the days of worrying about what would happen if my parents contracted the virus. Say goodbye to stressing about exposure to people, and what it would be like if/when my family got sick. My mind was aware of the hospitals and medical staff, but I would not let that transfer into fear and worry. I let myself think that if I felt any fear at all I was letting fear win. I was wrong. 

What have I learned about myself during this pandemic? I have learned that I can feel brave and afraid at the same time. In reality, the worried and stressful thoughts were and are still coming at regular intervals. The difference is when the fear comes, I no longer hide from it. Pushing the fear/worry/anxiety down gives it more power. Locked in the recess of your mind fear-or whatever you would like to call it-is biding its time until you are not ready for it. Then BAM out it comes with a lethal vengeance. Covid-19 has taught me to acknowledge the fear. When those fearful thoughts come into my mind  I identify them and acknowledge their existence. Instead of running from the thoughts, I put my arm around them and let my bravery take over. 

I can be fearful and brave at the same time. I can worry about what is happening across the world and still have hope that it will get better. I can be worried about our healthcare workers while allowing my gratitude for them to overshadow that worry. I can stand in the face of my husband, children, parents, and loved ones contracting the virus because I know that there are people and enough love in my life that will help me get through it.  I have learned to hold both of these things in my hands and heart and be alright with that. And Brene is right…it is truly an adventure. 

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Rethinking Porn Addiction

Whether unwanted pornography use has impacted you directly or not, this series of youtube videos hosted by Nate Bagley, with Kristin Hodson, LCSW, and Doug Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a must watch.  They’re looking to change the conversation surrounding porn to decrease shame and increase the ability for individuals who need help, to get it.  


In the first video, Doug states that under the current treatment model, people have to hurt those they care about before they get help.  Having more open conversations is one way to change that.  If you are struggling with unwanted pornography use or feel you might have an addiction, set up a session with Alice by calling 801-944-4555.

Enjoy!
https://youtu.be/GjevzF3QJ4I

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Money and Sex. Are they taboo subjects in your marriage?

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. 

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Movember and Me

You might be asking yourself why is a therapist writing about Movember? Isn’t that just about men’s prostate cancer and mustaches? While yes, both of those things are true, Movember is so much more. Movember is primarily to bring attention to various medical and mental health issues that men often face or go unspoken, and to promote longer healthier men’s lives. During this month of Movember, my goal is to let everyone out there, mustache or no mustache, know how they can participate and show love for the men in their lives. 

One of the primary causes that is talked about during Movember is suicide. Every hour of every day we lose 60 men to suicide. In order to bring attention to this and build resources to support men’s mental health, Movember gives you the option to move for 60 miles throughout the month. If this doesn’t get you up and make you want to move, I don’t know what will. Moving can look like, biking, swimming, walking, hiking or running. Follow along with my Movember while I run 60 miles. You can find it on Instagram @natewatkinslmft. If you do not want to move or grow a mustache, here are some other ways to show your support.

How you can show support:

  • Move for 60 miles for the 60 men lost across the world
  • Grow yourself the best mustache the world has ever seen
  • Donate to the Movember cause
  • Do your own epic adventure and tag Movember
  • Host a gathering (via zoom or follow your local health guidelines) and highlight the importance of Movember
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Tips & Ideas to Help Your Child Navigate Difficult Times

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.

Validation  

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.

Model Behavior 

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 

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.

Resource:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578899/#:~:text=Regression%20is%20typical%20in%20normal,usually%20corrects%20the%20regressive%20behavior.

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Managing the Stress of the Election Season

Click here to view Clair Mellenthin, LCSW on KUTV discussing how to manage stress during the election season!

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