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Therapy For When Life Sucks.

Hamilton & Burlington Area

Marriage, Relationships & Couples Counselling

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    Don't Play Ping-Pong With Your Wife!

    When we have a group of friends over at the house, out comes the ping pong table or the air hockey.  A few good hours of macho fun and celebratory remarks all leads to a lot of laughing and bonding.  

    Do you play ping pong with your wife? (or husband!)  I mean, ping pong without the table.  Rather, in your relationship.  Here, let me give you an example:

    Husband:  "Oh man, I had such a bad day at work today!"

    Wife:  "Oh yeah, me too!  The kids were just awful all day.  I am exhausted!"

    or...

    Wife:  "I really feel frustrated when I see clothes all over the floor"

    Husband:  "I know what you mean, you leave your dishes all over the living room"

    Ping-ponging, as I like to call it, is when emotions are shared from one partner to the other, followed by the other partner immediately sharing their emotions right back.  This can often go back and forth, just like playing ping-pong, where each person keeps taking a stab at the ball (or the emotion) without either of them "leaning in" and feeling their partners emotions.

    I think many of these ping-pong effects occur when one brings up an issue and the other person immediately becomes defensive.  This then causes individuals to feel unheard, disrespected and discredited.  

    Effective communication stiplulates that when one person is expressing, the other person needs to be listening, not planning a response.  This is hard to do, especially if you disagree.  That moment when your partner is expressing their feelings is not the time for you to agree or disagree.  Quite frankly, your opinion at that very moment doesn't really matter.  It's about listening and "leaning in emotionally" to your partner.  Try to feel what they feel.

    Leave the ping-ponging to the table and avoid using this in your marriage!

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    When Should I Really Consider Marriage Counselling?

    If you have been sleeping on the couch, consider marriage counselling.  If you have been wondering what it's like to be on one of those dating websites, consider marriage counselling.  If you have told a good friend lately that life totally sucks, absolutely consider marriage counselling!

    They say that the average couple waits for 6 years of being unhappy before they consider counselling.  6 years!  That's a long time of bickering, fighting, sleeping on the couch and being lonely.  

    Marriage counselling isn't just for when things are really, really bad.  Counselling is great and very helpful for all couples, whether the relationship sucks or not.  A tune up or a check-up is often the term used.  Premarital counselling for those just starting out can truly help couples face relationship challenges with a much better perspective.

    So whether you are 22 or 82, just got engaged or married for half a century, relationship counselling can help improve communication, resolve those annoying conflicts and strengthen the love and bond.

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    What Do Struggling Marriages Have In Common?

    With 90% of my appointments are with couples, I have met with many.  Different cultural backgrounds. Different ages. Different life experiences.  And each couple comes to counselling with different concerns and issues.  However, I have noticed some common themes among couples who are struggling to be happy.

    The one word that seems to apply to most unhappy relationships is the word FEAR.  Think about it for a sec.  It's not frustration. It's not anger or disappointment, although those emotions may be present as well.  But the foundation is fear.

    Fear of failure. Fear of being inferior. Fear of repeating your parents marriage. Fear of divorce. Fear of losing out.  Fear of losing control.    This list can go on and on.

    We behave negatively because of that fear.  We may lash out because we are afraid of being controlled by someone else.  We may run away from a fight because of our fear of conflict, believing that conflict wil result in physical punishment.

    Take a moment right now and think back to a heated argument you had.  What was your FEAR in that very moment?  Move away all of the chaos and the actual issue that you were fighting about.  Think about your behavior.  Can you see how it may be fear based?  Now knowing what the fear is, what does it tell you about yourself?  Can you see that fear manifesting itself at other times in your relationship?

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    Stop Saying These 2 Words!

    Making changes in the way we communicate with our spouses or loved ones is hard.  Really hard.  In the heat of the moment, we tend to say anything to prove our point. 

    There are 2 words that we absolutely need to stop using today!  Not tomorrow or not next week but eliminate it from our vocabulary starting right now.  Using these 2 words will make those arguments even harder to resolve.  And could just end up ruining your marriage.

    So, what are the 2 words that I speak of?  Here they are, and please take note of them:  ALWAYS  NEVER.

    "You ALWAYS say you are going to be on time, but you NEVER are!".  Or, "You NEVER pick up your clothes off the floor!".  Or how about this one, "You NEVER tell me I look pretty!"

    How often do you use these 2 killer and totally useless words?  Think back to your last argument.  Did these words come up?  I bet it did. 

    Using words like Always & Never, you are painting an entire wall with one stroke of the brush.  Can you honestly say that "never" or "always" is 100% true?  It may feel like that, but is it actually factual.  By using always and never, you are overlooking the exceptions. 

    The natural response from a spouse when you use these 2 killer words is to be defensive.  Up goes the wall.  And you trying to get through that wall now is nearly impossble.

    "You NEVER tell me I look pretty!", for example, brings in the entire history of the relationship in one quick sentence.  It also takes away from how you feel right now.  Today.  At that very moment.  You never tell me I look pretty, a natural response from the husband may be, "well, why start now!", shouting out of anger.  A much more effective way of sharing how you feel and what you need could be something like "I would really like it if you told me sometimes that I look pretty.  By you doing that, it makes me feel good and makes me feel like you actually find me attractive".

    If ALWAYS and NEVER words are a significant part of your communication with your spouse, come and let's talk.  We can practice on using effective communication and listening skills to improve your marriage.  Until then, make note of it.  Be aware of how often you use these 2 marriage killing words.  You might be very surprised.

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    Life Dreams.  What Are Yours?

    What do you want to be when you grow up?  How many times have you been asked that question as an adolescent or young adult?  Likely, many times.  But how about now?  What do you want to be?  What do you want to accomplish?  Where would you like to go?  What hero would you like to meet? 

    For me, one of my life dreams has always been to walk the streets of New York city!  I always wanted to, but never really imagined it ever happening.  Couple years ago I had the opportunity to do just that.  I jumped at it!  I remember finding a parking spot just around the corner from the Empire State Building, getting out of the car filled with excitement and having such a great sense of accomplishment and achievement!  There I was.  I am in New York City! 

    Sounds like a useless and fruitless dream, but it was self-rewarding.  And having my wife with me to share in my excitement made it even more memorable. 

    What are your dreams?  Do you even know?  Do you know your partners dreams? 

    On the next rainy evening, why not stay in and cuddle up with your partner and talk about life dreams.  Ask each other these same questions I am asking you.  Write them out.  Draw pictures.  Talk and laugh.   Feel the unity and trust that comes from sharing such intimate and personal feelings. 

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    How Do I Choose A Counsellor?

    Having to sift through pages and pages of google listings to look for a counsellor or therapist in times of chaos, confusion, frustration, hurt and anxiety, is really tough.   While the process in finding just the right counsellor is daunting, here are a couple of tips that will hopefully make the process just a bit easier for you.  Here is what to look for:  (in no particular order)

    1. Location --  fortunately we live in an area surrounded by small towns and cities.  Getting from one place to another can be fairly easy, except during rush-hour.  But whether the office is located on a major bus route can be a factor.  Also, is it in a discreet location?  Is there a lot of parking available or will you have to circle the block over and over to find one? 
    2. Cost --  this is a significant part of the decision process.  How much can you afford.  I know, we all hear that there is no price tag on health, but there really is.  Plan on attending therapy once a week for 3 months.  What can you afford?  What are you willing to not spend money on, in order to have the extra to pay for therapy?  The costs for counselling varies significantly from next to nothing all the way to couple of hundred per hour.  The rates do not equal quality.  There are many factors that goes in to a therapist determining their rates. 
    3. Life Experience  --  a therapist once told me "I can't help you because I have no idea what it's like to be unhappy".  I think the experience behind the therapist is crucial.  Experience has a direct link to empathy.  To understanding.  Has the counsellor experienced life enough to know basically what you may be feeling? 
    4. Education  --  regardless of life experiences, education is necessary to help facilitate the counselling sessions.  Is the counsellor trained in various therapy techniques, or do they just use one form of therapy that you must fit into? 
    5. Gut Instinct  --  I believe this is by far the most important aspect in choosing a therapist then any of the above.  How do you feel when you read their website?  Do they speak to you?  Do you feel some sort of connection?  If the price is cheap, location is perfect, life experience matches yours and they have been educated up the wing wang, it will be a useless and fruitless counselling experience if there is no strong client-therapist connection. 

    So, when you are searching for that therapist, connect with the website.  Feel it.  Read the "About Me" section.  Read and Feel.  If that passes, look at the location and rates.  If that's good to go, get a feel for their education (especially education that is specific to helping you!).

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    Can Therapy Really Help Marriages?

    I often have couples come in for the first time, exhausted, stressed, beaten down and worried.  Worried that therapy will not work.  Worried that this will be a waste of time.  That their relationship is destined to fail.  No hope.

    I expect couples to come for counselling feeling exhausted, stressed, beaten down and worried.  Usually we wait until we have almost cracked before getting help.  We use counselling as a last resort.  So the big question is.. can therapy work?  How successful is marriage counselling?  Can relationships be saved?

    My answer applies to 90% of couples.  The answer is YES!  But no way in heck if both partners don't give 110%.  Marriages are tough.  Really, really tough.  Throw in some problems, communication chaos, bickering, fighting and the awful "4 horsemen behavior styles" those tough marriages just became even harder! 

    In therapy, I break things up.  Big problems are just a bunch of small ones squished together.  Trying to fix the big guy is overwhelming and daunting.  But taking it by smaller pieces is a lot more manageable.  Communication, commitment and trust is what we need to get the relationship to be built on.  So we start with that and move on to how exactly we resolve conflicts, what really must be solved and what can we do to help the other live out their dreams. 

    But absolutely nothing will change in your marriage if you just rely on the 60 minutes or 90 minutes or whatever time we spend together.  It's the hard work that both of you must do in between our weekly sessions.  The homework.  The assigned tasks.  Some of it will be uncomfortable.  Some of it will be enjoyable.  Either way, it's there to help you and help your relationship.

    If you are struggling in your marriage, don't wait until you are totally stressed out or when you feel that living in hell is better then living in your home.  Get some unbiased help.  Talk with someone who can help you and your partner take responsibility and make the necessary changes to be happy.  Trust me, it can be done!

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    I Love You. Will You Marry Me?

    As I sit here about an hour to go before ringing in the new year, I sense there are a lot of nervous guys out there looking at the clock, palms sweating, thinking about what is about to take place.  At midnight we ring in the new year.  For some, they are also ringing in a proposal to their girlfriends.  "I want to spend the rest of my life with you!  My love, will you marry me?!"

    Over the next several months there will be a lot of preparation for the wedding day.  The cake, the dress, the music and venue. Oh, the guest list.  Stress, excitement, nerves, doubts.  All of it is normal.  But I wonder how much thought is put into the actual marriage.  Personalities, communication, conflict resolution, individual and family goals, in-laws, finances, sexual intimacy, family planning.  Oh the list goes on!  How much time do couples really put into these conversations before their wedding?

    Considering divorce rates are near 50%, and second marriages around 70%, it is imperitive that planning is at the forefront.  Pre-marital counselling (a must in many US states!) will guide the couple through conversations that needs to happen.  But not just conversations.  Structure, tools, techniques and awareness of yourself and each other.

    If you know someone who is getting married, do them a favor.  Buy them a pre-marital counselling/planning package.  It's personal, its useful and its affordable.  In fact, it's cheaper than the wedding cake!

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    Hide! The in-laws Are Coming!

    You love your in-laws!  Just admit it!  It's that time of year again when the in-laws arrive, the uncles and aunts come by and the rest of the distant family members shows up to take over your house!  Ah, Christmas!

    If you are like many families, distant relatives and in-laws pose a challenging obstacle for you.  Will mom be critical of the house?  Will dad drink too much?  Will Uncle Jim flirt with our son's girlfriend?  The things that bonds family together!

    To try to make the most of this upcoming holiday season, it is important that you and your partner talk about possible issues.  Listen to each others concerns.  Don't judge them, even if it's totallly absurd.  Listen, ask questions, repeat back. 

    Second, agree on the issues.  List them out.  Cross out the ones that you will have no control over. 

    And third come up with an action plan.  What WILL you say when mom complains about the colors of the walls?  Or that the TV is just way too big for your kids?  Or if she complains about how you are letting your daughter wear totally inappropriate clothes.  What will you say?  What wil your partner say?  Talk about it.  Role play even.  And agree on a strategy.

    And if Uncle Jim flirts with your son's girlfriend, which one of you will kick him out of the house?  :)

    Start talking today.  You have a couple of weeks to figure this whole family-coming-over-for-dinner-but-will-likely-end-in-a-fight out.  Talk, listen, and plan.

    Have fun & good luck!

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    Stonewalling.  Are You Guilty?

    You know how it goes.  Right in the middle of a heated argument your partner turns around and walks away.  Up to the bedroom or off to the couch.  You just know this is the beginning of a day long silent treatment.  Or two days.  This is called Stonewalling.  According to Gottman, stonewalling is when one person totally shuts down and closes him/herself off, resulting in zero responsiveness and zero communication.  The interaction just... stops.  The big problem about Stonewalling is that it can easily become a habit!

    So, are you guilty of Stonewalling?  Maybe you recognize it in your partner?  Stonewalling, also known as imploding, can destroy your relationship.  Avoid it!  Reach out to me to learn the techniques on what YOU can do to avoid a stonewalling relationship, whether you are the guilty partner or not!