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

Archive for the ‘Mental Health Topics’ Category

You’re not the Grinch: You Don’t Hate the Holidays, You Hate the Work

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Charlie Brown and the Grinch have something in common, the lost meaning of Holidays. For the Grinch, being mean transfers his lack of joy on others.  For Charlie Brown, the holidays are things he suffers mostly in silence and endures.

Are you like the Grinch or Charlie Brown? You aren’t alone.  The holiday rush is a time when many people express to me unequivocally that they “hate the holidays.”  When pressed, they tell me that they really love the gathering and the festivities; it’s the work they hate.  They feel obligated to do things they don’t want to do or don’t feel supported in doing those things.

We spend some time considering how they might want to choose what they do and create holiday rituals that create joy instead of drain them.

Sometimes changing things up is part of the answer.  Think about what is really important about the holidays and think about curtailing some activities or tasks if they bring more aggravation than joy.

Even if you do that, you also need to ask for the help in doing all those holiday things.  But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

Don’t be resentful.  Ask for what you need instead.  In my line of work, I help couples raise issues in their relationship that are sometimes conflictual.  That includes the holidays. Dr. John Gottman, well known for his research in relationship stability and divorce prediction and cofounder of the “Gottman Method” of therapy I practice, found that couples who stay together are gentlewhen they bring up a concern or issue in their relationship and they ask for what they need.

How we ask for what we need creates opportunity for connection with those we love.  When we don’t ask for what we need, we can feel disconnected and resentful.

That leads to problems sooner or later.

Broader requests are not as good as specific ones.  Let me give you an example from my own Thanksgiving dinner.  Several people were standing around doing nothing.  I could have yelled “help me!!!,” but that would neither be polite nor asking for what I specifically needed.  Instead, I asked those standing around to please cover the leftovers with aluminum foil.  Seems so minor but even that asking matters because if I hadn’t, I could have felt angry that people weren’t helping and could have felt overburdened.  Instead I felt supported.

With so many things happening over the holiday season, it is vital to ask those you love for what you need. Whether its help with the shopping, wrapping, decorating or cooking, asking for what you need is essential. Being gentle and clear also gives the person hearing the request the greater possibility for success.  So if you start to feel overwhelmed.  Turn to your partner and let them know, “Honey, I am feeling overwhelmed and I would really appreciate your help.  There is a lot of shopping left to do and I need you to help with getting the gifts for your parents.”

Practice this, and maybe you too can rediscover the joy of the holidays like Charlie Brown or the Grinch.

Hurricane Harvey . . . My Emotional Meltdown

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Anyone affected directly or indirectly by Hurricane Harvey is going to experience many shifting emotions, and each day will be a little different. Yesterday was the first day I had a meltdown.

The first several days after our town was flooded, I was filled with an adrenaline rush.  Our mission was to get people to safety, get them fed and in dry clothes. There was no time for tears. Every time I felt tears forming or a lump in my throat, I would quickly turn it off and get back to work.

Once safety needs were met, we moved into cleanup mode, diving into shit, literally. People in the community came together to rip out waterlogged sheetrock and house contents that have been bathing in contaminated flood water for days.  It’s a smell I will never forget.  Again, we had to push emotions aside to get the job done.

But yesterday was different.  It was time to go back to my real job. I stepped away from the energy of dealing with the flood and was forced to put my mind elsewhere. When I got home I checked Facebook, which by the way, has been my lifeline for getting information.  It was there I  saw the news that Kingwood High School (KHS), which was destroyed by flood waters, was moving its operation to Summer Creek High School so students could get back to school.  

People’s comments reflected a shift in where they were in the grief process. The adrenaline is subsiding, as is the disbelief in what we are dealing with. People were trying to “bargain” and throw out ideas of how to keep kids in KHS, as if school administrators had not considered every viable option. There was anger. Anger at how their kids would be displaced, how their education might be compromised, and how life would be hard, very very hard.

And then I watched the video about how the flood destroyed the high school.  It was that frigging video that sent me over the edge.

My son is a senior and goes to Kingwood Park High School, but he was slated to go to KHS and we transferred before freshman year. We know the kids and families at KHS and my heart just broke as I watched in horror at the devastation. I sobbed and sobbed. All of the tears I held back all week came flowing out.

There’s no more denying that what is happening is real, and it ain’t pretty. The reality we are facing is worthy of a big, fat meltdown. I think it is perfectly normal to let yourself fall apart a little right now. Let it out. Feel it to the depth of your core. Denying your grief only delays it. There is no getting around it, no matter how strong you think you are. We are moving through grief for our losses, and each day, possibly each hour will be a different emotion.

Does Your Partner Overwhelm You in Arguments? 5 Strategies to Cope with Emotional Flooding

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


Ever been chased by a bear?

Me neither, but I know a thing or two about feeling overwhelmed in a dangerous situation.

A few years ago my husband fainted while driving 70 mph on a highway.  Instantly realizing I had to maneuver us to safety, I ripped off my seatbelt, took the wheel and reached my foot over to the brake.  It wasn’t until we were safe that I realized my son  was crying and in a state of panic.  And because my only thought was not dying on that highway, I had not even processed what happened to my husband.  He came to and gained composure, but  I was completely flooded . . . breathless, sweaty and weak.  That’s a classic fight or flight response to a dangerous situation.

John Gottman found in his research that physiology of partners during conflict discussion can be like my fight or flight response, especially in ailing relationships.  When one partner feels attacked and overwhelmed, or chased by an angry bear, there is often heightened diffuse physiological arousal (DPA).  This causes feelings of unmanageable stress, such as inability to think, hear or communicate clearly, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and  increased blood pressure.  All we want in that moment is for the bear to stop chasing us and to get to safety.  Sometimes we fight back to overpower the bear, and sometimes we run away from the bear.

Managing DPA in conflict discussions is necessary, otherwise it gets in the way of productive discussions.  The cascade of physiological stress symptoms interferes with our ability to problem solve.  We cannot  be a good listener when we are flooded.  Go back to my fight or flight experience.  I wasn’t even aware of my son screaming, crying and panicking, so there is no way you will be able to hear an angry spouse when you are flooded.  Empathy and creative thinking fly out the window, along with our humor and understanding .  We need to get calm to take in better information and to engage in an effective discussion.

If you are prone to flooding, knowing how to self soothe and bring your physiology back to normal is important.  Practice the following steps when you get flooded:

1.  Learn to recognize the physiological signs that you are flooding.  A good indication is your heart rate, which can rise to well over 100 beats/minute when you are in DPA.

2.   Tell your partner you need a break from the conflict discussion and take 15-20 minutes to calm down.  Do something that distracts you from the conflict, such as playing Words with Friends or reading a magazine.

3.  Typically when in DPA we take rapid, shallow breaths.  Try taking several slow, deep breaths, breathing slowly, in and out, watching your belly rise and fall.

4  Try progressive muscle relaxation.  Starting with your feet and legs, lift and hold for several seconds, or until the muscles start to feel warm.  Release and feel the heaviness and subsequent relaxation of the muscles.  Move up your body (buttocks, abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck/head), repeating the same procedure.

5.  Try visualization.  Think of a soothing scene, like a beach or relaxing on a hammock under the stars.  Imagine, in detail, what is there . . . the sights, sounds and smells.  Allow yourself to be transported to a “safer”, more soothing environment.

A good break to reverse the physiology of DPA lasts 20-30 minutes.  Once you are relaxed try to return to the conversation with your partner.  Remember, a break is a break and not an opportunity to flee the scene.  You must return to the conversation because if you don’t it will feel like punishment and make matters worse.

 

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How Does Weight Gain Affect Couples?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

“You’ve gained so much weight . . . I am no longer attracted to you”.

More than 34%  of Americans are now obese and it has become a national epidemic.  Co-morbidities related to obesity, like diabetes, often take the spotlight but weight issues have deleterious effects on relationships as well.

Weight Gain Often Accompanies Marriage

Couples can become couch potatoes, watching TV instead of being on the go.  Working out may take a backseat now that one is no longer on the prowl for a mate.  Nurturing your loved one with delicious meals, celebrating with food and frequently enjoying cocktails together can pack on the pounds.  Couples can influence one another with eating patterns, often to their detriment, and this can boost caloric intake.

Much to my chagrin, weight and body shape changes can and do occur over time.   Pregnancy, menopause and the aging process all contribute to changes in size and shape.  Couples who support each other through these transitions tend to be the happiest.  Change is inevitable and it is best to accept that some change in weight and physical attractiveness will happen for both of you over time.

Weight and Marital Unhappiness

Unfortunately for many couples weight issues take front and center stage in marital unhappiness.  When one partner gains weight, the other often doesn’t know how to handle it.  Sometimes they try unsolicited advice like “Go to the gym with me” or “Maybe you should give Weight Watchers a try”.  Advice giving can morph into nagging or ultimatums, and this constant pressure adds conditionality to the relationship.

Derogatory remarks about weight are devastating to a relationship.  Name calling, telling your partner you are no longer sexually attracted to them or saying oink oink every time your overweight partner reaches for seconds all cut to the core.  Being critical of your partner is toxic and according to John Gottman is one of the predictors of divorce.  We all want to feel loved for reasons beyond the number on the scale or our clothing size.

Attacking the overweight spouse compounds the problem by adding layer upon layer of shame and humiliation.  Making negative comparisons or ogling a sexy stranger makes the overweight partner feel worse, more insecure and vulnerable.  Instead of feeling cherished, one feels disrespected and devalued.  Using shame as a tool to motivate always backfires.

Shame is different from guilt.  According to Brene Brown, shame researcher from University of Houston, shame is very painful and focuses on our self worth and sense of belonging.  Shame says “I am fat and unworthy of love”.  Guilt focuses on behavior and says “I overate and feel miserable”.  Shame interferes with our connection to self, as well as to our partner.

Women who have engaged in lifelong battles with their body are especially prone to shame when they plump up after marriage.  They feel big and unsexy and often dress to hide their curves.  Whereas they once pranced naked in front of their partner, now they dress and undress in private.  They often avoid sex in order to avoid rejection.  They simply feel “not good enough” or unworthy.

We used to think that men were less prone to body image issues, but the truth is their issues were present but off the radar.  They often share the same feelings of shame when they gain weight.

Secrecy is often a component of shame and weight issues.  This wreaks havoc in relationships, especially if the overweight partner has binge eating disorder (BED).  People with BED eat salads in front of their partner and gorge on junk food in private.  Bingers are not only grazers and chocolate cravers, but they feel out of control with eating.  They avoid eating in front of others to avoid judgment and in the process destroy intimacy and emotional connection.  It’s like an affair, only the affair partner is food.  Not only does the couple need marital counseling, but the binger will also need individual therapy to deal with their issues.

Many other dysfunctional patterns arise in couples where eating issues or BED are present.  Chronic dieting to compensate for overeating affects how couples approach food in social situations.  It also affects rituals of connection like family dinnertime and holiday food traditions.  Sometimes we see issues of codependency or enabling by placing the responsibility of the eating issue on the normal weight partner.  Other times we see sabotage through the form of temptation, especially if the binger loses weight and there are underlying power struggles in the couple.  And sometimes couples abuse food together to promote a sense of closeness.

The Real Cause of Marital Unhappiness

But is the excess weight or the presence of BED to blame for plummeting marital happiness and sexual intimacy? Not so according to Gottman.  In his extensive research of couples he found that 70% of both men and women report satisfaction with sex, romance and passion when the quality of their friendship was good. Additionally he found that couples whose sex lives go well after the birth of a baby stem from the man keeping his mouth shut about the changes in his wife’s body.

Friendship, fondness, admiration and deep emotional bonds are what keep couples connected as they traverse changes over time.  Attraction to your partner has more to do with what’s in the emotional bank account than the number on the scale.  Physical changes are not at the heart of deteriorating marriages.  Happy couples see their partner as worthy of honor and respect.

In couples where weight has become a weighty issue, there are underlying problems that are being overshadowed by the weight gain.  It is easy to point the finger at the obvious, but loss of the friendship system, emotional avoidance or problems with conflict management are more likely the root cause.  Weight loss alone will not change the trajectory of a troubled relationship.

As we say in Gottman Method Couples Counseling, every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay.  Never comment adversely about your partners weight or your attraction to them.  Instead be affectionate and appreciative.  Focus on their positive attributes instead of dwelling on their weight.  Kind comments reassure your partner that you love them no matter what their body looks like.

As for dealing with shame, the antidote is empathy.  Replacing shame talk with positive self talk is crucial.  In other words, if you are overweight talk to yourself like you would talk to your child.  When shame is present it grows by leaps and bounds when it is stuffed.  Release shame by talking to your partner . . . their job is to express empathy and understanding.

Couples need to maintain positive regard for one another to cope with the changes that time brings, and that includes changes in weight and physical attractiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks and Giving

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

A few years ago on a warm Thanksgiving morning (yes, this is Texas) my family and I were walking our dogs before getting down to the serious business of smoking a turkey and watching football.

As we approached our house my husband found a dollar bill at the edge of our lawn.  He stooped to pick it up and my sister called out “I found another one . . . and another . . .  and another!”  Excitedly we combed the cul-de-sac, finding 17 dollar bills sprinkled on the street.

I thought maybe a neighbor went to the grocery store for a last minute item and accidentally dropped the money.  Neighbor after neighbor denied this theory.  This was turning into quite a mystery on our quiet cul-de-sac.  I began to suspect the money was left intentionally.

An Act of Kindness

Black Friday rolled around and my sister, friend and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mall.  After a few hours of battling the crowd we headed to our favorite watering hole for a bite to eat and a cocktail.  Without a reservation we had to sit at the bar.   No problem.  Visiting this establishment had become part of our annual ritual of connection.  After the second bite into our burgers the bartender directed us to slide us down a few seats to make room for another party.   Her abruptness irritated us.

The new party saddled up to the bar while we noshed and sipped, recovering quickly from our game of musical chairs.  When we got the check, the man in the party that displaced us called out that he appreciated what we did and was picking up our tab.  Instantly we felt guilty for our irritation and gave thanks for his generosity.  After chatting for a few minutes he simply asked that we do something nice for someone in return.

Giving Feels Good

Paying it forward is an age old concept where the beneficiary of a good deed pays it back to someone other than the original benefactor. And it feels oh-so-good to give. When we are generous, we are more aware of the good in our lives.   We develop compassion for others. Acts of kindness make us feel more connected to others.

Several years ago Oprah had a Pay It Forward challenge where she gave audience members $1000 and a camcorder to capture their good deeds.  Their acts of generosity were incredibly touching.  The givers talked about how it changed them, not the receiver.

Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel that was turned in to the feel-good movie Pay It Forward, starring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey.  Spacey, a teacher of 11 year old Osment, instructs the class to come up with an idea that would change the world.  Osment’s character comes up with the idea that for every good deed bestowed upon you, do three good deeds for someone else that they could not accomplish  themselves.

Indeed that sort of generosity would change the world.

Money was serendipitously thrown at me in all directions on the holiday of Thanks and Giving.  I was charged with how to pay it forward.  My son and I decided to give dollar bills away, in the same fashion we found them.  By carefully placing them in locations where people would surely find them (napkin dispensers at restaurants, toilet paper rolls in restrooms), we had great fun imagining the surprise on their faces when they discovered their bounty.

It was a great start to the holiday season.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


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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