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The Power of Humility

In my work with people from all walks of life and circumstances, the one thing I have found to be true in every case is that humility always aids in healthier interactions and higher quality relationships. Another observation, is that humility is not very easy to come by. We, as human beings, kind of stink at this humility thing.

So, what is this humility thing? Well, in my personal and very unofficial definition it means not viewing yourself (or anyone for that matter) as better than anyone else. It is throwing out the right vs wrong, better or worse than mentality. I think that the following two beliefs are an essential first step in maintaining humility.

  1. Remember that every single human being on this earth has had and will have an entirely unique experience. None of us can have the exact same experiences and views as someone else.
  2. Each one of those unique human experiences and vantage points are valid.

Not only do these beliefs lay the ground work for much kinder and constructive interactions, but it will ease you of the stress that comes from expectations to be right or better than. Humility might sound like this:

“I think it is like this, but I could be mistaken.”

“I want to try this, and I would love to hear what you would like to try.”

“Can you tell me what that is like for you?”

“I was mistaken.”

“I am sorry about the pain you are feeling due to my choice. Will you tell me more about it?”

       I challenge you to incorporate even one of these phrases into your conversations, perhaps with someone you haven’t been getting along with very well, and see how the relationship improves. Even if you don’t find the outcome you were looking for, kindness and softness are never wasted.

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We Need Others

Human beings are social creatures and need connection. Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have suggested many reasons for why we need connection.  These reasons include: providing for physical and emotional needs, creating tribal safety, invoking social and economic efficiency, and offering structure for human development.

As I’ve explored this topic, I find our need for others is multifaceted. In mental health, there are overlapping influences, often termed the biopsychosocial model of health. This phonetic amalgamation promotes the importance of three overarching schools of thought: (1) our biology, (2) our thoughts and emotions, and (3) our social environment. Our social connections are no small matter. We experience social connection with family, friends, church relationships, clubs, and work situations.

One reason I feel we need others, is to create affirmation and validation for our life journey. As children, we look to authority figures for validation. At first, this person is usually a parent or guardian. When we enter our adolescence, we turn to friends. As adults, we may seek approval from peers, or authority figures such as church leaders, a spouse, or a boss at work. Marriage relationships uniquely create opportunities for seeking intimate affirmation and validation. As a therapist, I see couples desiring validation if they are “enough,” or if they are “doing things right.” These bids for validation are expressed in a variety of scenarios in the kitchen to the bedroom.

Eventually, we arrive at a place where self-confidence eclipses the need to seek validation from others.  When this occurs, we help support others, and our self-esteem is self-sufficient.  I don’t think this process is a bad thing. Instead, I feel the understanding we gain is helpful and includes three important concepts.

First, as other people bid for validation from us, we should feel complimented, as we are now a companion in their healing journey. Affirming another is an opportunity to support and honor the path and choices others make in a way that creates self-awareness and growth, confidence, and security while allowing for a space of safety.

Second, we need to know how hurtful rejection can be for those who seek for an affirming voice from us. As children, we are often told “no,” “don’t,” or “you cannot.” Usually, these commands are barked from parents who want to protect their children. However, as a conscience being willing to aid in the healing journey of others, an affirming voice such as “you can,” “you’ve got this,” or “I trust you,” is more effective.

Third, understanding your attachment style, or the attachment style of others can assist in explaining how validation and affirmation are expressed.  An assessment of how you engage with others can aid you and those you love to help establish securely attached relationships.  For example, some people will anxiously seek for attention, and others pull back when things get messy, avoiding receiving the needed help the connection brings.

As humans, we connect with others for a variety of meaningful ways. Seeking affirmation and validation is a human characteristic that moves people toward a place of self-confidence. We start by trusting the voices of others we trust, and then we move to trust our internal voice.  We do these in elaborate dances that deserve our attention and our nonjudgmental observation.

If you or a loved one needs help in understanding or seeking validation, please give me a call at 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment today.

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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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Vulnerability: A Vital Key To A Successful Marriage

It is no secret to the people I work with that I love the work of Brene Brown. Her books, podcasts, articles, Netflix special, and basically everything else she has done is phenomenal. One of the key topics she speaks regularly on is the idea of vulnerability. This is an important key to any successful relationship. I first noticed this when I started doing marriage therapy, almost fifteen years ago. Brene Brown helped me put a name and research behind what I had been seeing for so long. Couples and individuals that are struggling in relationships have a difficult time being vulnerable.


What does someone who struggles with vulnerability look like? It is the person who has a difficult time identifying and expressing primary emotions-or in other words those really hard sticky emotions like hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. For countless years I have seen couples come into my office and as they express their feelings of anger they create a solid wall or barrier between themselves and their partner. As we work on knocking that wall down and identifying those hard emotions it is very difficult for these couples because they have stopped the vulnerability in their marriage for so long. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades. What happens when vulnerability is turned off? That wall between the couple gets higher and thicker. Emotions are not expressed, except through anger or passive aggression. Resentment grows. Communication decreases. Emotional and sexual intimacy decreases. The couple starts to lead completely different lives. 


In therapy, we work tirelessly on creating a safe space where each person in the relationship can express their feelings and be truly vulnerable. It is amazing to see the progress when they can look at each other and state they feel lonely and unimportant rather than yelling. The couples I work with laugh because I am always saying to them “turn to each other. Talk to each other not to me.” Through this sometimes uncomfortable process comes true vulnerability. Through vulnerability couples are able to better share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings without the fear of judgement. These couples communicate better, fight more productively, and have better emotional and sometimes sexual intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable with your partner is a game changer!


I challenge you to work hard to implement more vulnerability into your marriage. If your marriage is in trouble and you feel this is lacking please come in for counseling! Working on this and other essential keys can help rejuvenate your marriage. 

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A House on Fire

 

If you think back to the last time you experienced a crisis in your relationship, you may remember the feelings of panic and fear.  You may even remember feeling uncertain about whether your partner was going to be there for you.

 

In those moments, it is easy to let our fear build, until it transforms from a few sparks into a full-on house fire.  When our relationship-house is on fire, we turn to the person we need the most for help.  In our panicked state, we don’t always have the mindset to calmly explain that we are in crisis and need help.  More often, we attempt to let our loved one know that we are in crisis, that our house is on fire, by throwing little bits of the fire in their direction.  What we intend as a “hey, I’m really hurting right now, and I’m scared and need to know that you’re here for me”, comes out as anger directed toward the person we are turning to for help.

 

If I throw fire at my partner’s house, they’re going to take protective measures to keep their house from also catching on fire.

 

This intensifies whatever cycle has already been occurring in the relationship.  One partner feels uncertain, and lashes out (when really, they’re looking for reassurance), the other partner backs away further, uncomfortable with the intensity of the first partner.  This backing away leads the partner to feel further abandoned, and deeper into their crisis, fanning the flames, and turning the small bits of fire they throw at their partner into a raging fireball.

 

If we can understand this cycle, and recognize it when it happens, we can begin to stop it.  Initially that might look like a “hey, I see what we’re doing here- we’re in our fire cycle”.  Next one partner might say, “yes, I know I’m lashing out, because I’m anger, and under the anger is fear that you aren’t going to be here when I need you”.  Or the other partner might say, “I see you lashing out, I know you feel anger, but I want you to know I’m here for you”.

 

If we can acknowledge the anger and the more vulnerable emotion behind it, we can slow the cycle and find connection in our relationships.

 

If you find yourself stuck in this cycle, and need help getting out of it, set up an appointment with Alice today by calling 801.944.4555.
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Technology Has Changed You!!!

“Technology has changed you!” is a phrase that my daughters throw around jokingly when I am on my phone, tablet, or laptop when they think that I should be engaged with them. They’re right though, as much as I hate to admit, and be called on, my behavior; technology has changed me. However, with the influx of digitally charged interactions comes the opportunity to connect with friends and family that, previously, was difficult to stay in contact with, but there is also the increased ability to disconnect from in – person interactions and relationships.

So, just how much is technology impacting our relationships? According to a recent study conducted by the market – research group Nielsen, American adults average 11 hours per day reading, listening, surfing, posting, or just generally interacting with media. 11 hours per day! Now, it’s true that a lot of us use a lot of media sources for our jobs, school, and hobbies, but how much of that 11 hours per day is spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest, or the social media site du jour? What are we giving up interacting on a social media platform for nearly half the day? How are our relationships with our kids, spouses, friends, and other family members impacted? How is our relationship with ourselves impacted? What is social media doing to strengthen or damage your relationships?

Interestingly, when I ask those questions of clients most look completely dumbfounded for a minute. Then as they begin to evaluate the function that media serves in their lives and their relationships, they often come to an answer quickly…it’s a distraction. Media is an escape hatch from real life, but it’s often “sold” as being reality. This seemingly innocent incongruity, fantasy vs reality, can cause some real issues. Ok, so what are some things that we can do to counteract the negative effects and heighten the positive effects?

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! That’s right folks let’s talk about how social media, and media in general, is going to be used within our relationships. There isn’t an easy button for this discussion, each relationship is different and so are the boundaries established within those relationships. Some families may have a social media moratorium during the week, others may have limits on what media influences are allowed, and still others may have a more laisse faire approach…no one solution is fundamentally better than the other as long as the people involved have been part of the discussion, even teens and kids. I’m not saying that the kids get to decide but allowing children to be part of the decision – making process and have a voice is empowering and models respect and compromise.

Set media free time aside every day and use part of it to connect with those you care about. Most people are not going to be in a situation where they must be “plugged in” 24 hours a day. Media free time is crucial to balancing mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Go for a walk/run with your best friend, take a hike with your family, go on a bike ride with y our spouse, or just sit around the kitchen table and eat dinner without cell phones or the TV on in the background. Also, allow yourself some time to disconnect from media and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Give yourself the space to really connect w ith yourself and understand what’s happening for you mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Be wary of the comparison trap! All media, but social media in particular, is rife for falling into the habit of comparing ourselves with those in our neighborhood, school, church, or the world in general; this is a harmful mindset. Remember that social media is being sold as reality, but it is fantasy. Often it is used as a “highlights” reel to life, but we don’t get to see the “bloopers” reel. Real life is not a series of perfect moments like what is featured on someone’s Instagram story. Comparing our lives to that well curated presentation can lead to feelings of failure, inadequacy, and hopelessness.

Lastly, take breaks from media if it feels like it is becoming obsessive or is dominating your “real” life. Recently, my college age daughter went on an “electronics fast” for one of her classes for a week. She was only allowed to use a desktop computer and the university’s website to complete homework, otherwise she had to be digital free. I admit, I had a hard time not being able to shoot her a quick text or message, but I think that it was an experience that we could all use from time to time. We have convinced ourselves that life would cease to exist without media …that is not reality.

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The Disconnected Relationship

What is love? According to Sue Johnson, “It’s intuitive and yet not necessarily obvious: It’s the continual search for a basic, secure connection with someone else. Through this bond, partners in love become emotionally dependent on each other for nurturing, soothing, and protection” (Johnson, 2009). Humans have a hard-wired need for emotional responsiveness and closeness. At the beginning of our lives, we are born with the survival response and need for attachment from our mothers. This need for a secure attachment never fades; it follows us into adulthood evolving into the need for a secure attachment with a partner.

Underneath most fights and marital issues is the longing to feel connected to your partner, to feel that secure attachment and to know, do I matter? Are you there for me? Unfortunately, our culture has painted the picture that this type of dependency is weak and undesirable. Because of this, many relationships begin to exhibit over time, physical and emotional isolation that is actually traumatizing to humans; it communicates to the brain “danger.”

Most relationships begin with a super close connection; partners tend to be more responsive to each other’s needs. However, over time this tends to dwindle and fade as each partner begins to make assumptions about the other. For example, one partner wants more attention or love but expresses this by acting angry and nagging, the other begins to withdraw and pull back not knowing how to react and possibly feeling as though they can’t do anything right and so begins, the “dance” of the couple. The more one nags and pursues, the more the other pulls back and begins to withdraw. At this point, the relationship begins to unravel leaving each partner wondering if the other is there for them or not. During this dance, neither really discusses the deep emotional pain they are really feeling, which keeps them spiraling around in this cycle.

Once you have been able to identify your relationship’s negative cycle, you can both agree to break the cycle. Although disappointments will always be a part of every relationship, we can choose how we handle them. We can handle them in the same old ways, reflecting fear and defensiveness or we can handle them with a little more understanding. If you and your spouse feel as though you are constantly caught in an endless negative cycle, schedule an appointment to begin changing that cycle by learning to understand the underlying emotions and recreating a deeper emotional connection with your partner.

 

Johnson, S. (2009). Hold me tight. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/hold-me-tight

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