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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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Getting Naked in Marriage

Many people believe they want to get naked in their marriage. Truly naked. They go into marriage with a belief that good things will just “happen.” That methods they’ve learned from their friends or even their parents will allow their clothing to just come off. No risk! Just the potential for an excellent reward.

The deeper challenge is that getting emotionally naked in your marriage takes focused practice and understanding. So much so, that people often don’t put forth the effort to get there.

Over the years I’ve developed a number of key strategies for couples to peel off their emotional clothing. To become truly naked to their spouse in ways that seems foreign at first. In reality, somewhat painful at best!

Staying Fully Clothed Emotionally

When working with couples I’ve had derivations of the following conversation on a number of occasions. It goes something like this: addressing the husband, I may say something like “You know your wife wants to hear from you even when you’re having a terrible day. She wants to connect deeply with you.” When asked supportively if this is correct, she will often give a knowing and definitive nod. He seems completely taken aback by this as he was taught essentially that sharing feelings is “weak.” Certainly not manly or desirable. And who wants to be seen as a wimp in marriage? No one!!!

Of perhaps greater import, is that unless a couple can become emotionally open with each other they’ll rarely (if ever!) feel completely connected. She will be unable to trust him on a consistent basis. He will feel that she doesn’t want to dig in deeply on things that matter to him. In reality, why should she want to do so? When she does reach out to him he can seem to be aloof and disinterested. Meanwhile, he can perceive her as distant and not wanting to connect with him in physically intimate or affectionate way. This leads to disconnection and a belief that this will never change. Ouch!

Learning to “Bare It All” Emotionally  

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier for some couples to be physically naked with their spouse than risking emotional nudity. Acquiring new ways to trust emotionally doesn’t need to seem like rocket science. Indeed, it isn’t really rocket science. In fact, it takes two people gradually becoming willing to share, errr, BARE it all. One key item for men is making the paradigm shift from essentially always keeping feelings hidden to sharing even his most key fears. This can be done with a well-trained marriage therapist or even gradually at home as the couple is ready. Either way, it can work.

One key challenge is that most believe “we’ve already tried that. Believe me, it did NOT go well!” The difference now is that you’ll be following three key ideas. Check this out.

First, realize it will be a gradual journey to go from emotionally withdrawn to connective. I like to ask some of the couples I work with to just improve one out of four times initially, i.e., that’s just 25 percent. That is, wives risk asking your husband how he is feeling when he looks really overwhelmed by his day. Husbands, be willing to share your feelings with her, even when it looks like your job may be at risk of being RIF’d in the near future.

Next, recognize that ANYTHING worth doing in this life comes at a risk. Going back to school comes with a risk. Asking your boss for a raise comes with a risk. In fact, asking (and accepting!) your wife to marry you came with a risk. The key point here is that if you don’t risk you’ll be in the same position 1 month or even 10 years from now. Do you REALLY want that???

Thirdly, make sure that you recognize that improvement takes consistency. Don’t just try for awhile and then give up because it wasn’t perfect. Recognize what the universe wants you to know, it will NEVER be perfect. Just keep risking and recognize it will get better.

Becoming Naked Together

Now you maybe thinking “Michael, I’m getting major goose bumps from the cold winds just thinking about becoming exposed emotionally.” Hey, I get that. Please know that there are wonderful resources to help you out. One on my favorites is speaker/author Brene’ Brown (https://Brenebrown.com). One of her most profound concepts is that of “vulnerability.” When I ask men what the word means to them, almost exclusively they’ll respond “weak.” Women generally see it as something to be desired. Totally sought after. Pursued and captured. Exactly!

Moving from seeing vulnerability (or risking) as “weak” to a strength is a journey. One that is so worth it for your marriage to truly become amazing. And, isn’t your marriage worth the effort to go from emotionally disconnected to a feeling of comfort as the emotional clothing peels off? I absolutely believe it is!

Michael Boman, LCSW has years of experience helping couples to reach their full potential in marriage. You can reach him by email at Info@wasatchfamilytherapy.com.

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The Forgotten Sibling(s) of a Child with Special Needs: How Parents Can Show They Remember

Parenting a child with special needs presents unique rewards and challenges. I once heard a mom compare her experience to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” With all the twists and turns on the journey, it can be hard to focus on passengers in the back seat: the child’s sibling(s). Sometimes all you catch is a quick glimpse from the rear-view mirror, before your attention is called ahead to the next major bump in the road.

Before I address this topic any further, it is important to acknowledge that most parents of kids with special needs feel exhausted, guilty, and at times, overwhelmed. This article is not meant to induce more of those feelings. After a long day struggling with the needs of one child, the last thing you need is to be wracked with guilt about how it affected their sibling(s). This is hard to avoid, because quite frankly, many days your child with special needs will get more of your time and energy than your other kids. It’s the cold, hard truth; you can’t change this, and your other child likely knows it. The sooner you accept and acknowledge this, the sooner you’re on your way to giving your “backseat kid” what they may need most on those hard days: a listening ear and true understanding.

As a child therapist, I have spent many hours counseling parents that children, like everyone else, most want to be truly seen, heard and understood. In most cases, parents can do a “good enough” job giving this to their children. Hopefully, it is a relief to know that you don’t need to fix all your child’s problems or eliminate their struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers! But you do need to listen to them when it counts – to hear in a way that communicates: “I see you, and all your feelings are okay.”

For children who have a sibling with special needs, parents might be unaware of just how much is going on below the surface, both positive and negative. I recently spoke with a teenage girl who said this about how her brother’s autism affects her:

  • “I feel rejected by my family because often my turn never comes.”

  • “My sibling’s problems are more important than mine. No matter what I’m feeling some days, it feels like it doesn’t matter in the family.”

  • “My brother gets more attention for his interests because he talks about them so much. He doesn’t understand how I have interests that are important too.”

  • “I get to feel accepted because autistic people tend to be more accepting of others.”

  • “I get to watch him overcome his challenges and grow.”

  • “Sometimes people generalize autism as one thing, but it is a spectrum. They don’t get it, and that’s frustrating. Autistic people can be really different from each other.”

  • “I learn a lot because my brother knows a lot, and his mind goes so fast.”

  • “People can be mean and say rude things. They don’t really understand what people go through because they don’t live with it. It hurts and makes me mad. It’s hard because some things they say are true.”

  • “Sometimes it feels like he’s my mom’s favorite. It’s feels so unfair because she treats him differently. He gets more attention for his accomplishments.”

Before you ask your child what it’s like for them, prepare yourself for an honest answer that may be difficult to hear. It can help to take a deep breath; remember that your child’s struggles, no matter how difficult, can be opportunities for growth and learning. Having done this, it’s okay to ask directly about your child’s experience. You could phrase the question like this: “What’s it like for you? You know, living with your sister’s __________ (insert the name of the sibling’s disability)?” Then try to really listen and not talk much yourself. While you may be tempted to respond by saying something like, “I’m sorry … I just do the best I can,” resist. Just focus on hearing and reflecting what your child is saying; if they laugh, laugh with them, if they cry, cry with them, and above all, hear them. You can do this because in your own way, you get it; although you’re in different seats, you’re on this wild ride together.

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Attuning To Our Partners In Small Moments

Hold Me Tight Therapy Group

According to John Gottman, in every interaction in our significant relationships, there is an opportunity to attune or turn away. We have many experiences where we notice our partner, and we make a choice: “Do I ATTUNE myself to what is going on,” or, “do I turn away?” Pay attention to what happens when you turn away. What are your thoughts? What happens to the other person? What does your body feel like? What do you choose instead?

A-T-T-U-N-E is an acronym for just how to turn toward our partners in a supportive and empathetic way. Our job with each other is to create emotional safety, and it is through small moments, like attuning, that create stability and ongoing romance. When we feel acknowledged, we feel secure and safe.

A- Acknowledge

T- Turn Toward

T- Tolerance

U- Understanding

N- Non-Defensive

E- Empathy

Here are some fun ways to practice attuning opportunities:

  • Go for a walk with a spouse or child.
  • Plan a picnic.
  • Cook dinner together.
  • Call each other during the workday.
  • Volunteer in the community.
  • Plan an outing together: hike, bike, or drive.
  • Visit the beach.
  • Go dancing together.
  • Plan to attend brunch.
  • Get away to a secret location.

Whatever you decide, remember the importance of attuned engagement and the strengthening power it has.

For extra support or help making repairs in your relationship, make an appointment with Wasatch Family Therapy at 801.944.4555.

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Five Questions to Ask Your Teen About ’13 Reasons Why?’

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By now many of us have become aware of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which is a series depicting the experience of a young teenager who commits suicide. Throughout the series the main character shares the various hurts and traumas she has gone through that leads to her decision to end her life. For many people this has been a troubling show to watch due to its graphic content, which includes a detailed depiction of sexual assault and the process of a completed suicide including the detailed depiction of the character dying through suicide.

Multiple media outlets have highlighted the creators intent to open dialogue surrounding suicide and not to glamorize the process of dying by way of suicide. However, for many the interpretation and impact of the visual content has had varying responses. For some it has been highly triggering and has increased suicidal ideation. For others it has created curiosity and the desire to open communication about suicide.

For all parents even those with the best filters or rules about viewing mature content, chances are your tween or teenager will be exposed to this show in some fashion. Whether viewing it themselves or through interactions with friends and social media, 13 Reasons Why isn’t going away and here are five questions to support you in starting this necessary conversation with your teen or tween.

What do you understand about the show?

Were there aspects of the show that you personally related to?

Is there anything I can do to help support you in understanding the realities of suicide?

Have you ever had thoughts like this yourself? Can you help me understand them?

Is there anything I can do for you?

If you discover your child has struggled with suicidal thoughts or is currently having them, it is important to not dismiss the seriousness of their experiences and these thoughts and to seek out help from licensed professional immediately. Below are resources for parents and children who may be in crisis.

If you feel your child could benefit from further professional help Wasatch Family Therapy is here to serve you.

National Suicide Prevention Life Line 1-800-273-TALK

The Utah Crisis Line 1-801-587-3000

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Youth) 1-866-488-7386

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Thoughts And Prayers Are Not Enough

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In the hours after a tragedy inspired by intolerance and bigotry, it is difficult for me to write. I want to be angry and sad, and simply feel those feelings until they dissipate and I’m swept up in the next wave of media and life. I want to sit and watch the news, safely in my home, without action, knowing that it would likely be a reaction to the senseless hate that our country has struggled to defuse. I want to send my “hopes and prayers to the victims and their families” in order to feel a little better about the world and how I experience it, but, I also know that that isn’t, and never will be, enough. Whether you are an advocate for the LGBTQ community or an advocate for civil liberties, wishes and prayers are not enough to stop the violence and intolerance that divide our nation and break our hearts. For real and lasting change to happen we must, as participants in the democratic process, engage mindfully and thoughtfully in the political and cultural dialogues that are happening right now. Have an opinion, listen to others opinion, validate and learn about the differences, and by the grace of God or whatever you believe in, love each other. So instead of just wishing and praying, educate yourself beyond the emotional reactivity we see from Fox News and CNN.

Usually, the hours after a terrorist attack the media turns toward dialogue and coverage about the attackers that further instigates fear and polarization between
“Us and Them”. This binary mentality prevents us from seeing the individuals within the “them” and leads to more polarizing actions rather than learning to understand, communicate with, and co-exist with “them.”

When we choose to do nothing but listen or perpetuate the hate and fear rhetoric, we are ignoring our responsibility and opportunity to heal. By all means, send your prayers to these people, but also know that actions like voting, donating time or money, or having dialogue with others that promotes understanding and tolerance will help move us in the right direction.

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When NOT to Trust Your Instincts in Marriage – Part I (for men)

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“We need to talk.” These are possibly the most frightening words for a man to hear, but the most exciting for a woman!

Research has been done into the phenomenon: Why is this four word phrase is so difficult for men? The findings are actually quite interesting. This phrase triggers the fight or flight response in a man’s brain. Essentially, it signals DANGER! More specifically, “what have I done wrong this time?” Or, “how have I failed as a husband?” Women may think this is a little dramatic or hyperbole, but it is merely a physiological response.

This is the same reaction that a father would have when he finds out that one of his children is in danger, or there is a problem that needs to be solved at work. Metaphorically, a man is gearing up for battle when there is a perceived problem and they are wired to go and conquer the enemy. So, it becomes more understandable, that if a man can’t go and fight the problem that is presented by his wife, he will at least want to give suggestions and advice so that his wife can.

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How to Help When a Friend is Unhappy: Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

How to Help When a Friend is Unhappy: Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

True friends often go through a lot together. They experience the joys and good times, and sometimes they seeeach other through harder seasons of life as well. But it can be difficult to know exactly how to react when a friend is weathering a particularly difficult storm or is in some way unfulfilled. Here are 5 strategies to employ when a friend is unhappy

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Why Therapy?

Safe Haven

WHY THERAPY?

Before I write about the benefits of therapy, let me be clear. Your decision to go to therapy (or not) is a personal decision, and it is yours to make. Some people are intimidated, nervous, excited, relieved, anxious, or even resentful that they even have to think about going to therapy in the first place. Oftentimes, it is all of the above and more! That is completely understandable and human.
So, if you choose, what is the benefit of therapy? Why face all of these emotions? Here are my beliefs and thoughts about the benefits of therapy:

Confidentiality. Have you ever been worried that your most vulnerable story will be told to others after you have confided in someone? Or worse, has that actually happened? Therapists are bound by confidentiality regulations to ensure your safety and privacy. A therapist cannot share your story with others without your express permission. This can be a relief to a lot of clients who want to explore their experiences, but aren’t ready for others reactions who are close to them.

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