Category Archives: Couple Counseling

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Thoughts on the Six Keys to Relationship Success

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When researchers look at the root of what makes some relationships successful and what causes others to fail, themes around life circumstances, personal qualities, and the nature of the relationship begin to emerge. In a brief video featuring Art Aron, Anatomy of Love has beautifully articulated the six keys to relationship success that research has shown again and again to work. Take a moment to visit their page and watch the video, then come on back for some thoughts on this.

Now that you’ve seen what the six keys are, let’s think about how they can apply in your own relationship. Review the below and answer the questions as honestly as you can:

  1. What levels of stress do you and your partner currently experience? What stress is caused by external forces out of your control, and what is caused by things you CAN control? Do you and your partner take circumstantial stress out on each other? Are you actively working to reduce and cope with your stress in healthy ways?
  2. Who supports your relationship? Who can you turn to for help or guidance when you need it? Are you and your partner actively sustaining friendships and relationships with important people in your lives? If not, how can you make the time and commit to doing this?
  3. Are either you or your partner experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns at any level? If so, how is this being treated? Are you engaged in taking care of yourself and supporting your partner to do the same?
  4. How satisfied are each of you with the others’ communication style? How do you feel when a conflict is resolved? Do you take the time to improve your communication together? If not, what is something you could commit to doing to work on this skill?
  5. Are you capitalizing in your relationship by taking the time to learn about and celebrate the successes of your partner? Do you make the time to be proud of your partner’s achievements?
  6. Do you and your partner make the time to try new things together consistently? What’s the last thing you did together that was a new experience for both of you? When was the last time this happened? How can you make the time to enjoy making new memories more often?

By answering the above, you should have a better sense of your relationship strengths and some areas that may need a little work. Consider next where your relationship is at: Have you achieved “okay”? Are you each ready to move beyond that and thrive?

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The Art of Listening – Inspiration for Connection From Tara Brach

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

Tara Brach, renowned psychologist and meditation expert, shares with us in the following video the importance of intentional listening and, through humor, understanding, and acceptance, shows how this skill can create an atmosphere of love that improves our bonding and connection to our partners.

She describes listening as “the vehicle to a true connection.” How does this resonate in your own life? For many of us, feeling heard by our partners is one of the keys to a successful relationship. When we are listened to, we feel that our beliefs are validated, that our partner’s have a deeper understanding of where we are coming from, and that our loved ones are more closely connected to who we are as individuals. Listening gives us the space to connect with our partners as well, to hear and validate their feelings just as we wish for them to do for us.

Listening is not the same as hearing – it is an active and cultivated skill. It requires intent and courage. As you listen to the below talk, consider how you apply the following principles of effective listening in your own relationship:

  • Committing to cultivating a presence: Do you make the time to listen without interruptions?
  • Listening without planning a response: Are you listening to the words of the other person, or do you find yourself thinking of how you will respond before they are finished speaking?
  • Listening without judgement: Do you listen with a clear mind, without making assumptions about what is being shared? Or do you find yourself crafting an opinion or theory about what the speaker is saying?
  • Listening with your heart: Do you make active efforts to understand the feelings behind the words you hear? Are you allowing yourself the vulnerability to connect with your loved on a deeper level?

 

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How Empathy Can Improve Bonding and Connection in Your Relationship

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

A couple comes in for marriage counseling to improve their communication and intimacy. After some time, the wife says, “My husband doesn’t appreciate everything I do for our family.” The husband immediately becomes defensive and replies: “She doesn’t understand how hard I work and what I go through.”

There’s an issue here, but not necessarily a lack of appreciation or gratitude. The problem is deeper – the couple’s ability to empathize with one another. Without empathy, the problems of this couple can multiply, leading to long-term consequences for their relationship. In this article, we’ll take a look at the concept of empathy and how you can use this to build up your partnership and increase intimacy, understanding, and togetherness.

Defining Empathy

According to Gottman, empathy is about understanding someone else’s emotions.  It means stepping away from your own perception and embracing the experience of someone else’s life.

When empathy is used effectively, when we truly step into the perspective of another, we reap considerable benefits. A study by Duncan and Jowette found that perceived empathy among 149 couples was positively associated with relationship satisfaction and negatively associated with depression and conflict. It’s something that every couple can use to improve or repair a struggling relationship – but it requires commitment and hard work.

The terms empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Sympathy is marked by an attempt to recognize the emotions of another, to feel sorry, and to be impacted by those feelings. Empathy is a much deeper action, as it requires one to change their perspective and share another’s experience vicariously, as if they were in their place. Let’s take a deeper look at the differences here:

Components of an Empathetic Relationship

A study by Pristang, Picoiotto and Barker examined 18 couples’ communication of empathy during the transition to parenthood. They concluded that couples showed high empathy levels when:

  • They checked out and explored their partners’ meaning of their concerns: When there is a problem or disagreement, this means taking a moment to rationally discuss the issue at hand without getting defensive or avoidant. What is the disagreement? Do both partners agree to the issue and what it entails? What stance does each partner take and why?
  • They acknowledged their partner’s concerns: Each partner recognizes and validates that there is a disagreement and values the difference of opinions that exist around the issue.
  • They articulated the meaning or summarized the partner’s issues: After listening and hearing the voice of their partner, the other partner is capable of understanding where that person is coming from.
  • They offered solutions: Instead of avoiding or stonewalling, each partner shares mutual solutions that demonstrate an understanding of each’s experience and live in the spirit of compromise and mutual respect.
  • They agreed on a mutual, shared experience: Partners commit to a solution together, continuing to check in with one another about the steps taken and make agreed upon adjustments as needed.

Are You Embracing Empathy in Your Relationship?

imagesDr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner, as well as essential to the emotional coaching style of parenting. Take a look at the questions below and consider how often they apply in your own relationship:

  • How often do you and your partner take each others’ perspectives? Even when your partner isn’t willing to, how often do you hear their words and place yourself in their shoes?
  • When having a conversation where your partner is facing an issue, how often do you keep advice, opinions, and consolations out of your words? Instead, how often do you allow yourself to simply “be there” for your partner?
  • When your partner is expressing a concern, how often do you look for the deeper meaning and emotion underlying the problem first, versus attempting to argue or solve the problem?
  • How often do you validate your partner’s feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, or any other feelings they may be experiencing, without telling them that they are wrong to feel that way, getting defensive about your actions, or trying to “cheer them up”?

To truly embrace empathy, both partners in a relationship should answer the above questions with “often” or “frequently.” If these actions rarely or never take place, empathy in the relationship is lacking and the partnership may suffer.

Integrating Empathy Into Your Partnership

So what can we do to use empathy more effectively in our relationships? Couples can try the following techniques to increase their empathetic communication and, thus, their bonding and relationship satisfaction.

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  • Give your partner loving attention every day: Spend treasured moments together, greet one another with happiness, and take the time to share openly about feelings.
  • Pay attention to your partner’s feelings: Especially when couples are first starting out with building empathy, partners may not feel comfortable openly sharing their feelings. You can begin by paying attention to your partner’s moods and ask questions: “You seem to be feeling sad – am I correct or misinterpreting?”
  • Validate your partner’s feelings when they are shared: One of the greatest keys to empathy is this – all feelings are okay. Feelings are simply feelings. While you may not have the same feeling in a similar circumstance, the fact your partner feels a certain way is a result of their own personhood, and nothing about that is wrong. When your partner shares how they are feeling, simply validate: “Thank you for sharing that you are feeling angry – I appreciate your trust in me to tell me that.” Do not try to dissuade, convince, or fix the feeling – be okay sitting with that emotion.
  • Work together to overcome problems: Once a shared respect of feelings is established with empathy, continue to use this tool to come to mutually-derived solutions. “What can I do to help you experience this feeling less in our relationship?” “How can I bring more joy into your life?” “What solution to this issue would cause both of us the most joy?”

Empathy has the power to transform the feelings of togetherness, understanding, and love between partners when used effectively. It brings the friendship back into a partnership, where both partners know they have each others’ back.

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How To Make Love Last In The Age Of Instant Gratification: A Speech by Dr. Sue Johnson

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

“Nothing grows people like love.” – Dr. Sue Johnson

What a remarkable and inspiring presentation by Dr. Sue Johnson, renowned psychologist and expert on love in modern relationships. In this speech, Dr. Johnson presents her theory on the science of love and intimacy. Through decades of research, she has come to the conclusion that love is an evolutionary adaptation, one that gives us enormous strength and resiliency, but also can make us vulnerable to feelings of fear and rejection.

As you watch this speech, consider the following key points and how they might resonate in your own relationship:

  • When a couple fights, it isn’t about a power struggle – it’s an expression of the grief and frustration that comes with feeling a loss of connection with one’s partner.
  • For someone in love, being criticized by their partner feels no different in the brain than feeling tremendous physical pain – both are threats.
  • Healthy couples understand that with love, there are moments of fear. That partners are capable of scaring one another. The couple who thrives acknowledges these moments, steps back, and soothes one another.
  • Healthy couples hold each other tight, give comfort, and are kind to each other.

Consider… is the answer to the question, “ARE you there for me?” a resounding YES in your own partnership?

Is your partner accessible to you?

Will your partner respond to you when you turn to them?

Does your partner give the attention you need and provide you comfort?

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Sustaining Desire in Long-Term Relationships

For many of the couples that seek marital counseling, problems with intimacy and sex are often included on the list of things they wish to work on. Why is it that these concerns are such a common issue for couples around the world?

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In the below TED Talk, psychotherapist and renowned relationship counselor Esther Perel shares her insights into why this phenomena is so prevalent in modern society. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her, and I see so much value in her perspective on this issue. Here, she shares with us her insights into some of the most pressing questions facing couples and marital counselors today: Why is it so difficult for couples to maintain desire in the long-term? What is the relationship between love and desire? And most importantly, “Can we love what we already have?”

So can we love what we already have? The answer is yes… but we must work for this. Consider the following questions and how they might apply to your own relationship:

  • When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?
  • Which child are you?
  • When do you shut yourself down?
  • When do you turn yourself on?
  • What do erotic couples do that you can emulate in your own life?
  • Remember: “Committed sex is premeditated sex. It’s willful. It’s intentional. It’s focus and presence.”

 

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Inspiration for a Happy Relationship…From Poetry: “Fire” by Judy Brown

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

I found this poem “Fire” by Judy Brown to be an excellent blue print for creating and maintaining happy togetherness. Happiness in our relationship is like the fire that we create. It will keep on and on as long as we wish to invest our energy, thoughts and understanding of its structure. Happiness will grow as long as we allow some space within the structure.

Happiness is a result of providing space, allowing the individual to grow within the relationship and finding the balance between growing together and growing individually. Happiness is built on a strong foundation. It is cultivated with care and sometimes with lightness of heart.

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FIRE by Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Judy Brown

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Using Laughter to Improve Your Relationship with Your Partner

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When we’re asked what attracted us to our partners in the first place, nearly everyone will include their partner’s sense of humor. Why is this such an important quality in a potential partner? It might be that we have an innate understanding of the benefits of humor. For example, a 2002 study by Culver examined the benefits of humor usage with surgical patients and found an increased capacity to tolerate stress. We also know that humor and laughter contribute to long-term relationship success. As John Gottman, the famed relationship psychologist, puts it: “Couples who laugh together last together.”

What Do We Mean By Humor and Why Does It Help?

When we talk about humor, we mean sincere experiences of laughter that partners share. Laughing at a silly thing a child has done, giggling at a joke, and watching a comedy you both love – all are great examples of shared humor. Humor doesn’t necessarily need to be pure or innocent – it just needs to be an experience that both partners find funny. Things like sarcasm or making fun are acts of criticism and belittling and will only drive a wedge in the relationship.

When a person experiences humor, it activates the part of the brain associated with pleasure, thereby releasing an array of chemicals that stimulate happiness, relaxation, and pleasure. Not only will humor increase these feelings immediately, but the presence of these brain changes will have lasting impacts on a couple’s connection and intimacy. Buhlman, Gottman & Katz found in a 1992 study that the quality of laughter in a relationship was directly correlated to whether or not a couple was still together at a three-year follow-up. This result was reinforced by a study completed by Kurtz in 2015, which found that the amount of laughter between a couple was correlated with overall relationship quality.

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Aside from these immediate and long-term impacts, couples also experience the following:

  • Increases in bonding and connection: Couples that share humor have the power to recall these memories together, giving a solid base of values and history.
  • Establishes hope and trust: When couples laugh together, it shows they feel comfortable in one another’s presence and recalls memories of the moments of attraction partners first had for each other.
  • Increases excitement: Humor can make the work that goes into building a solid relationship feel worth it, especially for couples experiencing times of stress.
  • Diffuses tension: The Gottman Institute states that humor is an example of a “repair attempt,” a method to address an issue without necessarily having a direct conversation about the problem.
  • Increases feelings of validation in a relationship: Successful attempts at humor help meet both partner’s need for attention and validation.

Strategies for Using Laughter and Humor in Your Relationship

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  • Spend time together, everyday: Give your relationship opportunities to experience humor. Spend uninterrupted time together watching comedy, sharing about your day, telling jokes, or just finding things to giggle at together. Make sure your quality time isn’t always focused on emotionality or serious issues – build laughter into your interactions.
  • Reminisce about the happy times: Share funny stories, look at pictures together, or visit family and friends who are intertwined in the history of your relationship. Use these opportunities to laugh about the moments of your life that bring you joy.
  • Create opportunities for future laughter: As a couple, try things that you may not be the most comfortable with – take a class together, visit a new restaurant, or just try something new. Approach things with a sense of curiosity and be prepared to laugh when things don’t go as planned. This not only gives an instant “humor boost,” but provides material for inside jokes that can be shared for years.

Humor can be a powerful tool for improving intimacy when used correctly – find ways to apply it to your partnership, and watch the “fuel gauge of joy” in your relationship move up as well.