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Reconnect in the Chaos

Reconnect in the Chaos

I was catching up with one of my professional colleagues the other day after not having seen her in several weeks.  She recently started a new position and we were discussing work life balance when she remarked, “I often feel like my husband and I are two ships passing each other in the night.”  Between the demands of their careers, social obligations, and raising a child, she voiced feeling disconnected from her husband.  There was a sadness in her tone and a longing for connection and intimacy with the man with whom she has chosen to raise a child and share a life.  


I’ve seen this time and time again in my practice: life seems to get in the way of couples connecting with one another.  When I talk about this with couples in session, both parties often talk about how lonely and disengaged they feel from  the other.  In a world where technology has made it easier to connect with people across great distance, I have found that we have forgotten how to connect with those closest to us, namely, our spouses/partners.  Most of the couples I work with have no idea how to reestablish that connection and are often overwhelmed at the prospect; at a loss as to where to begin.  


Begin with something small, something easy, and something reasonable that you can do daily.  Like all other living, breathing things, that invisible-but-ever-present thing between you and your spouse/partner (your relationship), requires nurturing and routine, daily care. While it might feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, you will likely find that, with daily practice, your efforts to reconnect with your partner will feel more natural.


Here are my top-three quick suggestions for connecting with your spouse/partner within the chaos of everyday life.


The Six-Second Kiss

Think back to the last time you greeted your partner hello or goodbye.  Are you in the habit of giving him or her a quick peck on the cheek or lips as you rush out of the door to get to work or to get to the kitchen to start dinner?  This small behavior sends a very powerful message that something else in your life is more important than your relationship and your partner.  A six-second kiss promotes intimacy and attunement with your partner; as John Gottman likes to say, “a six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.”  While science has been unable to identify exactly why we kiss, we do know that kissing can lower our cortisol levels (the stress hormone); release oxytocin (the hormone associated with bonding and connection); and release dopamine (a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain).  A quick peck on the lips or cheek isn’t going to produce those positive effects!


Turn off your cellphone and be present

The Today Show recently did a segment on “Phubbing,” or “partner phone snubbing” which was based on a research study conducted by Baylor University. The researchers wanted to find out how often people are distracted by their cell phones when they are with their partners and whether this behavior had any effect on the their relationships.  Not surprisingly, almost half of the respondents reported feeling “phubbed” and almost a quarter said it negatively impacted the relationship with increased conflict and decreased relationship satisfaction.  Again, turning your attention away from your partner to your cellphone sends the message that something else is more important than your partner.  So, ditch the screen time and put in some face-to-face time with your partner      


Express Gratitude

Think about a typical day with your partner; how often do you say, “Thank you for _________?”  Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued in their relationships.  I have yet to meet a couple where someone has said, “my partner appreciates me too much” or “I really wish my partner would notice fewer of the things I contribute to our relationship.” Renown couple’s therapists and researchers, Dr. John and Julie Gottman, have been researching marriages for decades.  They have found that relationships with the highest rates of satisfying, intact marriages have a high ratio of positive to negative interactions (5:1) and therefore, teach couples how to express and demonstrate gratitude.  Make a commitment to say to your partner, “thank you for _____” at least once a day.  


Make a commitment to yourself and to your relationship to implement my  three quick suggestions to re-connect with your partner for the next two weeks  and see what happens! While these suggestions won’t eliminate the chaos of  every day life, they may act as a lighthouse, so to speak, for your and your partner’s relationship as they continue to navigate toward a safe, more stable shore.


5 Ways to Support a Loved One Who’s In Therapy

5 Ways to Support a Loved One Who’s In Therapy

1. Be supportive

Whether it’s quitting smoking, eating healthier or exercising more often, anyone who has tried to make a lasting change knows that change can be difficult. It can be even more difficult when you don’t have people encouraging you or noticing your accomplishments. Isn’t it nice to hear “Wow! You look great!” after you’ve been trying to lose weight or have been hitting the gym regularly? Can you imagine how it would feel if no one noticed or seemed to care that your hard work was paying off? Your significant other will benefit from praise, encouragement and understanding as they make changes related to their mental health. Your loved one will also value empathy. Many of my clients have expressed frustration that their partners “don’t get it.” It’s okay, and even advantageous to acknowledge that you will never fully understand what your partner is going through…but that you can, however, fully appreciate it. Acknowledge your partner’s desire to improve him or herself, and to make some changes in his or her life. Clients have often told me that the first steps of seeking therapy –calling a therapist and attending the first appointment— are the hardest and most stressful parts of the process. Your significant other may need your encouragement to take those important first steps. Perhaps, offer to drive him or her to their first appointment and remain in the waiting room as moral support. Throughout your partner’s journey, ask your partner what you can do to support him or her on their journey of self-improvement.

2. Don’t expect things to change overnight

Often, people go to therapy expecting the therapist to have a magic wand and instantaneously “fix” him or her. Although I do have a magic princess wand a client once gifted me, sadly, it doesn’t work that kind of magic. Change must come from the person seeking therapy and real change takes time. It is likely that your partner’s unhealthy behaviors and/or thoughts began long ago and have been re-enforced over and over again, for years. Consequently, these engrained thoughts and behaviors are not going to be magically fixed with one or two visits to a therapist’s office. It is not uncommon for clients to be in therapy for six months to a year, if not longer. As your significant other makes changes, it is not unusual for him or her to have some setbacks. Try to practice patience as your loved one’s progress ebbs and flows and he or she tries to implement new skills learned from therapy sessions. Of particular importance, make time to celebrate the “small” changes and improvements that transpire throughout the process.

3. Educate yourself

An important part of therapy is learning about one’s mental health condition and about treatment options. Chances are, your loved one’s therapist will dedicate an entire session to providing this education. Offer to attend that session with your partner if he or she is agreeable. If you are unable attend, do your own research. There are many reputable websites (list of websites) available that provide education on mental health conditions. Some mental health agencies or community groups, such as NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), provide family support groups to assist family members with understanding and coping with their loved one’s condition.

4. It’s not as simple as “mind over matter” or wanting something badly enough

Many of my clients say they would not wish the way they think or feel on their worst enemy. They report feeling out of control at times, and describe feeling tortured by their own minds; desperately trying to regain a sense of control. As unreasonable as it would be to suggest that a diabetic or cancer patient wish him or herself well, it is equally as illogical to propose for someone suffering from a mental health condition to do so. Current research indicates that mental health conditions possess a biological component, as well. Therefore, your loved one cannot simply wish him or herself healthy. Avoid statements like, “ Just do it;” “Everyone feels _______ sometimes;” “I know how you feel;” and “Stop thinking about it.” Instead, if your loved one appears to be struggling, encourage your loved one to use some of the skills he or she has learned in therapy or to call his or her therapist for support.

5. And most importantly,

Ask your partner what you can do to support him or her on the journey of empowerment, transformation and healing.