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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Archive for 2011

Repair Attempts: One of the Secrets of Marriages That Work

Friday, December 9th, 2011

One of the secrets of marriages that work is using and receiving repair attempts.

According to John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, repair attempts are a way to put the kibosh on escalating tension between a couple.  Think of it as an adult time out, a tool used to bring emotions under control.

Repair attempts can be communicated from one partner to the other in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it’s a request (“let’s not fight, OK?”).  Other times it’s an apology (“sorry I jumped to conclusions”).  And other times they can be a humorous gesture, like sticking your tongue out or making an Elvis face.  When one partner makes a repair attempt it is a signal that they don’t want to feel the pain of yet another argument.

It takes insight and courage for someone to make a repair attempt.

The receiver of the repair attempt needs to accept the gesture and re-focus their emotional energy as well.  They need to understand that their partner doesn’t want to fight.  This is a  critical component of learning to de-escalate a fight.  If the receiver refuses the repair attempt and continues to push for an argument, their partner will either engage in a  full blown knock-down, drag-out fight or they will simply disengage, neither of which will help to improve the partnership.

Once both parties take a breather and calm down, then it’s time for the fair fight.  All couples argue and the point of a repair attempt is not to squelch all communication but to redirect energies into talking and listening, rather than screaming and defensiveness.  Learning to discuss differences with respect and not pushing each other’s buttons is a skill  employed in the healthiest of unions.  Using and receiving repair attempts is a sign of cooperation and ultimately builds stronger relationships.

It’s important to realize that most conflicts are not resolved.  That may seem defeating but  Gottman’s research shows us that 69% of the time conflicts go unresolved.  What is important though is the willingness to let go of another pointless argument that erodes the relationship.

When your partner uses a repair attempt you have a choice to make:  escalate a fight or de-escalate to a conversation.  Arguments in couples are less about being right or wrong and more about respect and understanding your partner.

So the next time you and your partner disagree, think very clearly about how you want the scene to go.  If you are interested in being right you will not use or receive repair attempts.  If you are interested in a healthier relationship you will find a way to de-escalate the tension.

Mary Beth George, MEd, RD/LD, LPC

Sexting . . . is it the new flirting??

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The word of the week for me seems to be sexting . . . you know, sending sexually explicit material from one cell phone to another.

A few colleagues and I discussed this issue a few days ago.  A friend relayed a story about some teens that got caught sexting.   What’s the problem with sexting?

For consenting adults, sexting is not necessarily a big issue.  Unless of course the photos are saved and used against a partner in a divorce or custody battle (oh yes, I have seen this in the ugliest of divorce cases).  Or if the person you sent it to seems to  thinks that Facebook is a better venue for your picture.   This is known as sextcasting and is humiliating, to say the least.

My 12 year old now has a cell phone and like all children his age with a phone, texting is the preferred communication form.  And yes, his phone, like most phones, has the capability of sending pictures.  So this morning over our morning oatmeal I found myself having a conversation with him that I could not ever imagine having with my own parents at his age.  We talked about sexting, what it is and the ramifications of doing it.  It never ceases to amaze me how me what we have to tell our young children these days.  Sigh.  But it is far better to arm them with information so they don’t seek it elsewhere or get themselves into trouble for lack of it.

Sexting is quite popular with the young crowd.  Taking nude photos and sending them to a love interest is the new flirting.  Young people aren’t savvy enough to understand that the receiver of their photos may not be completely trustworthy, and in fact, might find great pleasure in forwarding those pictures.  Texts spread like wildfire and end up on social network sites.  The problem is (well, clearly there are many problems) that this is considered child pornography.  It is not unheard of for children to get in trouble with the law (exploitation, harassment, felony, registering as a sex  offender) for sending and forwarding nude pictures.  Add pornography to that list of uncomfortable conversations over morning oatmeal.

The emotional pain and legal consequences of sending sexually explicit photos over a cell phone or the internet are not what adolescents are thinking about when they engage in this behavior.  When parents make the decision to get their child a cell phone or a Facebook account they must leave no stone unturned on the rules of usage.  ALL children have a curiosity about sex, even good kids.  ALL children want approval from their peers.  ALL children are naïve.  ALL children make dumb mistakes.   But sexting and sextcasting are symptoms of a bigger issue – kids don’t view sex in the same way their parents do.  This generation has a much broader view of what is considered acceptable sexual behavior.  It is up to parents to communicate very clearly and stay one step ahead of their tech-savvy kids.

So the next time you have a moment alone with your child, whether over oatmeal or driving down the highway, take that opportunity for a little education on some timely topics. It’s a changing world and we must keep up with the times.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

 

 

Is My Relationship Real??? Am I Watering a Fake Plant???

Monday, November 7th, 2011

A few months ago I received a lovely orchid as a gift.  Notoriously I kill plants by either overwatering or neglect. My orchid was so beautiful I really wanted to change my losing streak with houseplants, so I carefully watered it and made sure it got sunlight  . . . . until I was out of town for a few days.

I then fell into my usual pattern of neglect.  I left it in a dark room, dry as a bone.  When I  returned I fully expected to find a wilting plant with falling flowers.  But much to my surprise my orchid looked the same.  I began to wonder, “Is this real  or fake?  How could it possibly look the same?”

I pondered my orchid dilemma and was amused how it is a metaphor that could be used in relationships.

When we enter into a new relationship we put our best foot forward.  If we really want a relationship to work out, we try to change our old bad habits that get us in trouble.  I nurtured my plant like it was a new relationship.

But just like with my plant, true behaviors eventually emerge in relationships.  I am toxic when it comes to my relationship with .  I was showing my plant my true self and it was accepting my bad behavior.  I didn’t know if I should believe my plants great capacity for tolerating my abuse or dismiss it as a fake.

I leaned towards  the former . . . I really wanted my plant to be alive, even though I seriously  doubted what was happening.  Sometimes we do this in relationships.  We don’t clearly see what’s actually happening, only what we want to see happening.

Sometimes we nurture things that aren’t real.  Sometimes we water fake plants.

But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that my plant might not be real.  I decided to risk embarrassment and ask a friend what she thought.

Like a good girlfriend would, she listened to my story, examined my plant herself and offered a solution.  She suggested breaking a piece off of one of the leaves to see what would happen.  I was horrified that she wanted to desecrate my beautiful plant.  It was as if she told me to break off my relationship because it wasn’t real.

I knew she was right, but I wasn’t ready for the truth.  I decided it was better to live with not knowing and continued to nurture my plant as if it were real.  Not wanting to know the truth is really denial and my denial was powerful. I kept watering, not knowing, and not particularly caring what others thought.

I have now had my relationship with my new plant for two months.  I have exposed my true self to my plant.  Initially it was accepting and tolerant, some may even say it acted a bit codependent.

But lo and behold, my plant is starting to show signs of being a victim.  Just a few days ago I noticed one of the petals looked a little wilted.  It took two more days for the petal to fall off and for me to believe what was really happening.

But when it did I smiled with amusement for I knew my denial was over.  My plant was finally showing its true nature in our relationship.  I am being forced to deal with the truth and  it’s a little painful.

In counseling we work on accepting and dealing with what is truly in front of us.  No denial, no faking.  Once the truth is revealed to us, it’s up to us to accept what is really happening and take action, even if it is painful.

As for me and my plant, it’s time for me to accept my flaws and get some professional help.  As for you and your relationships, ask yourself if you are watering a fake plant.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much???

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

I read an interesting article in The Washington Post about a study that showed that alcohol was more dangerous than illegal drugs, including crack, cocaine and methamphetamines.

The study looked at factors such as how destructive each substance was to individuals, families and society.  It also evaluated how much harm it caused to one’s health and associated costs related to health care, social services and prison.  Alcohol was deemed the worst because of its widespread use and devastating consequences.  One of the study authors stated that “alcohol is embedded in our culture and not going away”.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about a client relating a negative alcohol related incident.  Stories range from not liking their behavior or their partner’s behavior when they drink or to concern for someone else who drinks to excess.   People often question what is normal and how much is too much.   I hear plenty of justification for alcohol use and plenty fear of living without drinking.  What is abundantly apparent is that no one, not even teetotalers, are immune to the effects of alcohol.  Clearly it is embedded in our culture and not going away.

Is binge drinking considered alcoholism?  Is drinking one glass of wine every day a
problem?   Just exactly how much is too much?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has conducted research to determine what level of alcohol consumption is considered high risk for developing alcoholism.  They have determined that for men the level is fewer than four standard drinks per day, not to exceed 14 drinks in any given week.  For women the numbers are no more than three per day or a total of seven in any given week.

If you find yourself breathing a sigh of relief and saying “Whew, I make just under the limit”, take a minute to review what is considered a standard drink.  Five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer and 1.5 ounces of spirits equals one drink.  Are you pouring a small glass of wine or filling a large Bordeaux glass?  Are you measuring the vodka for that screwdriver or are you eyeballing it?  Denial is one of the hallmarks of alcohol abuse and the vast majority of drinkers underestimate their actual alcohol consumption.

In addition to looking at actual amounts to determine if there is a problem, behavior must also be examined.  Is alcohol the only way you can relax or open up in social situations? Are you spending money you don’t have on alcohol?  Are you and your spouse arguing about alcohol use?  Have you had a brush with the law related to alcohol?  Do you regret your behavior after drinking?  Are you engaging in risky behavior while drinking, such as driving or risky sexual behavior?  Does alcohol use interfere with your productivity?  The list of negative behaviors is endless, but the answers to all require brutal honesty.  Failure to act on these negative behaviors
almost always has painful consequences.

If you are at the point of asking what is normal, chances are alcohol is already having some negative impact in your life and its use needs to be closely examined.  Talk with a therapist or contact the Houston Council on Alcohol and Drugs for information or a free assessment

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

The Six Second Kiss

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The other day we met some friends for lunch. They are a happily married couple who work hard at staying that way.  They recently attended the Art & Science of Love Weekend Workshop, a couples’ retreat taught by Certified Gottman Therapists. My friends said the “six second kiss” was one of the most enlightening things they got out of the weekend.

The six second kiss is a technique used by Gottman trained therapists to help couples feel closer and more connected. Emotional distance is one of the biggest complaints that couples experience over time. Hectic schedules, focus on children and work stress have a tendency to creep into marriages and reduce intimate interactions to just a passing peck on the cheek as one runs out the door.

The six second kiss is a way to communicate caring and your willingness to devote time to the relationship. Kiss when you wake up, when you leave each other, when you return, when you want to express appreciation, when you feel affectionate, when you make up from a disagreement and at bedtime. There are many opportunities throughout the day to work on your intimate connection and a brief kiss is a simple ritual that brings you back to that point very quickly.

My husband and I love the 6 second kiss.  Some kisses are silly. Some are romantic. Some are inconvenient. We agreed to forego a kiss in front of my son’s football team, but decided that we could have a 12 second kiss later in the day. It’s  playful and sweet and it’s a way to feel more connected throughout the day.

We average about six kisses per day. That’s an extra 36 seconds per day, over 4 minutes in a week and 18 minutes per month. That’s an extra 18 minutes we would not have otherwise spent on an intimate connection. It’s a small time investment with a big payoff.

Now go find your partner and pucker up.

Mary Beth George, MED, LPC, RD/LD

OMG . . . Spirituality in the Counseling Process

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

One of the two things you are never supposed to talk about in social situations is religion (the other being politics) because as we all know, opinions differ, debates become heated and good relationships can become strained.  But what about in the  counseling process?  Can one talk about religion or spiritual issues?

Historically, the answer has been no.  Counselors have shied away from discussing
spiritual matters for fear of imposing their own values on a client.  Our professional associations have even had difficulty defining spirituality, let alone offering effective guidance in this area.

However, both counselors and clients are recognizing a need to do more exploration in this area.  In the broad sense once can think of religious faith or personal spirituality as the framework for how people make sense of the universe, a basis for their value system and their purpose on earth.  What is important is what the client believes, not the counselor.

For clients, their faith can be a source of comfort and support or it can be part of the problem.   For example, young adults often find their beliefs in conflict with their parents.  This can lead to a deep sense of guilt or anger and resentment, causing great interpersonal difficulty in the parent-child relation ship.  Sometimes clients discover they need to re-examine their beliefs and values, especially if they are in the process of divorce and their chosen religion disapproves of divorce.  Sometimes the scenarios are not so clear cut, but clients make comments like “I need to get back into going to church” or “I’m mad at God”.

Spirituality encompasses qualities such as love, compassion, respect, caring, tolerance and forgiveness.  All religions address these values, but even non-believers say these things are important.

When woven into the actions of our daily lives, living by these values help one to feel much greater life satisfaction.  What matters in seeking these “feel good” qualities is clarifying one’s beliefs and helping clients take action to be in alignment with what they believe.  Being in alignment means you are living by your personal code and there is harmony and peace in your life.  Since the goal of counseling is to feel happier and more peaceful, it is not completely possible to separate spirituality from many counseling relationships.

As a human we go through many levels of development, spirituality being one of  them.  Many of the most influential people in my profession have written about the need for spiritual growth and how it affects our outlook on life and decisions that we
make.  Many of the books we have selected in our online Bookstore intertwine spiritual issues with personal growth.  We recognize there is a wide variation of personal beliefs and we tell clients to look at the big picture of the message of the books rather than the fine print.  Applying the basic message in your belief system is what is important.

When it comes to spirituality and counseling, look at it this way . . . if you can bare your soul with your deepest, darkest secrets and most personal information, spirituality should be no exception.

Namaste,

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

 

 


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

2330 Timber Shadows Drive
Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-812-7529

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