by Stephanie McCrackenOctober 23, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, Uncategorized0 comments
The pattern of mounting resentment is sometimes evidenced in romantic love. As a psychotherapist offering marriage counseling I see couples approaching the proverbial office with a mile high and well-worn list of “crimes,” the accumulated wrongs etched in the heart and mind perpetrated by the accused, their wife/husband/girlfriend/ boyfriend/partner. The end result is two confused, hurt, and angry lovers, each defensively pointing a hostile finger at the other. What all of the old and played out arguments rarely touch upon is the vulnerability, the intense need and longing that each partner has covered up out of complete terror. According to some relationship theorists such as Dr. Sue Johnson, the terror strikes upon some of the basic and human fears that many healthy and unhealthy couples carry very deep within them, and mostly they mimic the very same needs of an infant and the way that the small baby communicates with their caregiver. Most of them sound something like this “Will you come when I cry out?” “Do I matter?” “Is it safe and stable to show my love with you?” Reflect for a moment on the difference between an infant that is picked up and nurtured when it cries versus the one who is left to bemoan itself when it is upset. One learns that its needs matter, will be attended to and the other works itself into an even greater frenzy before quieting out of complete exhaustion. It is true that most adult romantic love, often mimics these very basic and fundamental efforts to gain the love and attention of our hearts caregivers. It takes practice, and often times even professional interventions to hear the layers that exist under the arguments about who will do the dishes and take out the trash, the electric bill and groceries, which family we will spend Christmas with, who is initiating and receptive to sexual contact.
The couple enters treatment terrified that they will not receive the love for which their misled attempts are begging. After so much time in the vicious and bleak stalemate, their hopeless perpetual deadlock, both parts of the couple sigh, and enter the therapist’s office wanting to know why they spend more of their time fighting than loving. If this sounds like you, a couple’s therapist may make a vast improvement upon the quality of your relationship.
Following, you will find some key points for deescalating those hot topics and some basics leads to communicate more effectively with your partner. Hostile words may wage wars, angry verbiage may even win some battles but it is kind speech that will heave the proverbial mountain from the blocked impasse. Empathetically spoken syllables will turn a foe into a friend.
- When speaking with your partner it will best serve you and the relationship if you are able to control strong feelings and to talk in a calm and constructive manner. In other words if you are extremely angry, sad, hurt, be aware of your strong feeling state and momentarily consider what this is contributing to your words. Some speakers speak kind words but in a tone, speed or decibel which comes off as angry, beware of that. Your tone, words, and speed of speech should all communicate the same thing. It may help to momentarily close your eyes, and take in a few extended inhales in an effort to find your center. By interacting from your inner source of wisdom you increase the likelihood that you will move beyond those points which have kept your relationship stuck.
- Consider some of the words and phrases which litter those stilted efforts of communication. Below are some of the common phrases that we hear uttered in the midst of arguments along with alternative phrases which may create new possibilities for empathetic expression between you and your partner. When you keep in mind that human interaction is somewhat similar to the “choose your own adventure novels” that you may have enjoyed reading as a child. Each variance in the verbal exchange is an opportunity to move the conversation in a new direction.
OLD COMMUNCATION NEW COMMUNCATION
“You always do (insert XYZ)” —— It seems that I am noticing a pattern, I wonder what that is all about?
“You never do (XYZ)”—- I really wish that we could spend more time doing___________.
“I am so sick of (XYZ)”—– I really wish that we could start doing things like____________.
- Genuinely attempt to hear something different! When your partner is replying, be receptive to what they are saying and really take the time to hear them! Sometimes these hot topics put love on a battlefield and voices raise, tempers flare as each person struggles to be heard. The old game is to fling your next arrow at your opponent while they are finishing their words. Instead, try to hear them, think for a moment about what fear your partner may be communicating under his or her words, and try to repeat your partner’s statement back to them in your own words. It can be a monumental moment of change when a person feels that you took the time to hear them.
It is empowering to consider that there is a range of opportunity to experience positive hope with varying emotional reactions and verbal responses which are elicited by taking a less threatening stance in communication. It is true that it is challenging to alter responses and reactions when you are navigating a hot topic. It is also true that some individuals are more challenged than others when making the effort to stay calm. Either because you are becoming highly angry or withdrawing, I recommend that if it is proving to be highly difficult for you to keep your cool in conversation, you may benefit from professional input. Coping mechanisms to deescalate ourselves when feeling particularly hyper-aroused are learned skills that can be acquired. Also, it is certainly worth mentioning that any pattern of very strong reaction is likely our emotive spirits method of indicating a very important message to our thinking. Attempt a deeper look, try to focus past the growing frustration with your former inability to resolve those points which have you and your partner stuck. It is my belief that no matter how deadlocked the pattern of communication may be in your relationship, it is never too late to make positive changes in the right direction towards the warm and loving bond that you deeply long to achieve!
Love Happiness and Health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Ave Pittsburgh Pa 15233
Today’s article is devoted to a serious issue, domestic violence. With more and more abused partners seeking refuge within shelters and therapy offices, one would imagine that there would exist a cultural and personal awareness of abuse that could protect survivors before violence reaches extremes. However, the lines that exist when violence and abuse pervade the sanctum of a relationship are often fuzzy. This is made even more complex by the fact that we as a society are so quick to blame the victim. You have heard it said before, “why doesn’t he/she just leave?” The reasons that some stay anchored in an abusive relationship are aplenty, some examples include, they are afraid, they may want to stay for their children or family, they may remember times when the relationship was healthy, the survivor may not have access to financial resources, their self esteem and mental health may have eroded from years of suffering because the survivor is receiving strong messages from their abusers that they are to blame for what is happening! It is hard for many to understand how the survivor could be blamed for what is happening. For example after a violent attack, the attacker may ‘gaslight’ the target by denying that anything even happened, saying things like “I didn’t touch you!” “Why are you upset? You’re being dramatic! If you hadn’t gotten out of line this wouldn’t have happened.” Other times the victim may fight back against the perpetrators grabbing, pulling, shoving, barricading, slapping, choking, and then the fault lines become even more hazy, as the victim feels guilty for having struck another and begins to truly internalize the fact that this is all his or her fault.
The hopeful message of this humble essay is that as a psychological and humanitarian community we provide opportunity for intervention before the violence has a chance to escalate to the newspaper headlines or obituaries. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2000 1297 women were killed by a romantic partner and 440 men by a partner. How do these men and women slip through the cracks, how do they avoid the potential help that could ally within co-workers, friends or family? Often individuals in violent situations are alienated with limited social supports. Simultaneously, the abuser may be clever in where he or she places the marks so that the attacks are not as immediately visible. Also, the victim will be an expert at covering up any hints of bruises or contusions because they love the person who is abusing them and don’t want to see their partner end up in trouble nor do they want to burden anyone with the knowledge that something is amiss in what may appear to be their picture perfect life.
Statistically, there is a relationship between domestic violence and the suffering from other mental health diagnoses such as a depressive disorder, self-esteem issues, and these can sometimes be further complicated by the presence of drug or alcohol abuse. Whether the violence causes such problems or people with these dispositions are more likely to enter abusive relationships is an entirely different topic, this writer simply notes that there is a relationship. How can we help someone who we think may be experiencing Domestic Violence to prevent death and further destruction from occurring?
1) Educate our young and old on the signs and symptoms of abusive relationships. The earlier that people learn to see a relationship for what it is the more likely that they will leave.
2)Remain vigilant of anyone that you think may exhibit signs of violent or abusive behavior.
3) Keep the lines of communication open for those you fear have entered an abusive relationships, keep in mind that the friend may have not been in touch in a while because of their abuser.
4) If someone you know is in an abusive relationship do not push them to leave, this may only alienate them further. Do your best to express to that person that you are there for them as a friend and that you respect their will and choices.
Some of the signs of abuse
~An uncontrollable temper
~Tells their partner how to dress
~Tells their partner that they are worthless, that they will never find another mate again
~Easily becomes jealous and possessive
~Forces or insists upon sex
~Destroys belongings such as clothes, electronics, or automobile
~Threatens suicide if their partner tries to leave
~Touches, grabs, restrains, or chokes, pushes, solicits any physical touch after hearing ‘no.’
~Diminishes their partners will to make important choices
~Restricts his or her partners ability to leave him or her
~Shows up at their partners home, work, school, families house/ etc against your wishes
~Constantly checks up on their partner
~Insists on controlling the money, car, or other resources *Financial abuse is a separate kind of abuse which often co-occurs with physical and emotional violence. I.e.
~Stealing from their partner/ taking their money
~Restricting partner to an allowance
~Sabotaging their partners job
Remember abuse is confusing, after years of having ones feelings minimized, it may feel strange or dramatic to label what is happening as abuse, abuse is insidious and nobody should be touched or belittled, abuse starts out small before ending as the kinds of violence that we all have heard about on the news. Often abusive relationships have periods of time where everything seems perfectly fine, but if a person has touched you in a violent way once they are quite likely to do it again. Violence is by definition when someone restricts your ability to move about freely and independently as a human by chocking, pushing, grabbing, pulling, smacking, slapping, punching, hair pulling, it is violent for anyone to touch you when you have asked them not to! Often an abuser will physically assault their target until they become passive, the right to walk, roam, and be is your legal and physical right. Abusers are masters at making excuses for unthinkable acts. They will stop at nothing to blame you for their violence that they were only trying to help you, even trying to convince the target that it didn’t happen. They will classically promise the target that it will never happen again. The abuser will be his or her most charming after an attack, the honeymoon period is a soothing time for the target. This makes it very difficult to leave the abuser because the abused person usually wants to believe that this painful behavior is finally over and when the abuser is doing and saying all of the “right things” and ‘love-bombing’ their target, it is very hard to leave.
The cycle of violence in domestic abuse
- Abuse – The abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show the target “who is boss.”
- Guilt – After abusing the target, the abuser partner feels fearful not guilt over what he’s or she’s done. He’s or she is more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for his or her abusive behavior.
- Excuses – The abuser rationalizes what he or she has done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
- “Normal” behavior – The abuser does everything he or she can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. She or he may act as if nothing has happened, or may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
- Fantasy and planning – In characterological violence, the abuser begins to fantasize about abusing their target again. Or they spend a lot of time thinking about what they imagine the target has done wrong and how he or she will make you see what you did. Then the abuser makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality. In situational violence, generally the abuser has less of a plan and explodes in the moment, both kinds of violence are equally dangerous.
- Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing you.
Some relationships are not as they seem! Awareness is the first step towards a healthier you, a more empowered family and society, if you or someone you know is suffering from the abuse it’s never too late or too early to make a change. For other resources please visit:
Or for 24 Hour emergency service
The Womens Shelter Hotline
(877) 338-8255 (toll free number)
In health and Wellness,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Family Counseling in Western Pennsylvania
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
2539 Monroeville BLVD Monroeville PA 15146
Long Term Sex, for Long Term Love, Tips to add Spark to Sexual Intimacy- Marriage Counseling and Beyond
by Stephanie McCrackenJune 26, 2013 couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, psychotherapy, sensate focus, sexuality, Uncategorized0 comments
Long term relationships, life time marriages ; Tips To Add Spark To Sexual Intimacy
Idyllic harmonious encounters of two souls forever become one, ahh…sounds so lovely, and it can be. Yet, reality settles in and our fantasy love becomes peppered with disappointments, disagreements, and challenges of surviving in a world that is at times unjust. For those who are able to make a loving partnership work, the bliss and benefits are at times extraordinarily beautiful, even promising greater wellness and longevity for people who are a part of a healthy committed relationship. There are many tips and methods which can help a couple mesh their various conflict resolution patterns and styles of loving which will create a happy ending after all. Yet, even those couples who are able to remain attached into the deeper phases of loving matrimony are not in the clear as time itself exerts a considerable amount of influence upon our behaviors and even our biology. Time causes us to become “habituated” to our mates, to use a scientific term. The term habituation is an important one, it means that all of those exciting feelings that we once derived from our partner’s presence are replaced with sensations of comfort. Literally that man or woman who was once the source of a quickening heart is now a source of a calm and comforting feeling, their presence is soothing. Like all things, habituation is at times a blessing but can also be a burden. Someone whose mere presence provides calm and comfort sounds divine, however sexually this can potentially be a source of trouble. When it comes to the bedroom biology will require that our pulses quicken and that blood flow heighten, this may be even more important for males whereas females can potentially experience greater arousal as they become more soothed. Are you a couple and have found yourself recently entering a sensual slump or are in a long term pattern of doing it less than is desirable for you? Keep in mind that there really is not a magic number for how many times a week or month is the ideal number of times for love making. Some couples may be content to enjoy sex a few times a month while others enjoy sex several times a week. The key point is that you and your partner know what is best for you individually and collectively. Taking that into account, if you are past the honeymoon phase and noticing a sexual shift, here are some tips for men and women to use, to combat the effects of time.
1) Cast aside routine. You probably have plenty of routine in the rest of your life so keep those outside of the bedroom. In fact, for some couples who are experiencing lower sexual arousal making an effort to make love in a different room of the house is a helpful tip to renew once felt passion. You may even want to consider spending the night in a hotel or taking a long weekend, enjoying you physical bond in a different setting may be just the trick to break the spell of habituation.
2) More on routine, it is easy to get stuck in a sexual rut by performing the same sexual position time after time but this will squelch your sexual passion quickly. Dare to try something new! Yes, it can be frightening to step outside of yourself and into something different but maintaining the same script every time you and your partner jump into the sack may be just as frightening. Fortunately, we live in the technological era and there are countless online and professional resources which will explain a million other contortions to enjoy your physical bond. Study something like tantra to add to your imagination.
3) Resolve emotional conflicts. This is a big one, the longer you remain together, the more time exists to build up unresolved emotional issues. Emotional conflict will wreak havoc on your sexual connection. Often our hurts, our resentments and all of the other things that inevitably happen as lines of communication and understanding become crossed, crop up in other parts of our behavior. Therapists hear many stories being recounted over and again from couple to couple, battles being reenacted in the sexual relationship as a pattern of one or both partners begin withholding sex. The best way to combat this is to resolve those emotional issues, adopt different manners of communication, it takes work but the relationship that can be achieved when you put in the time is well worth the effort.
4) Make time to make love! It is commonplace to be consumed in work, children, and finances that we literally forget how important it is to carve out some time for physical bonding with our partners. With so many other things placing demands on our attention, sometimes we view our partner as being “the person who will always be there tomorrow”, if they are there tomorrow the demands of the night doesn’t always elicit due urgency. I will beckon urgency for you, make time to regularly make love, it is every bit as important as driving the kids to soccer practice and dropping the mortgage in the mail.
5) Take care of your physical health, when we exercise and eat well, we feel our best and when we feel our best, our sexual energy is higher. The human body is a spectacular thing that can endure well into old age but only if we are kind to ourselves by nurturing our mind, body, spirit with quality nutrients and oxygen. If you are struggling with sexual arousal, sexual desire, orgasm, or a sexual pain disorder, you should seek sex therapy or a medical evaluation. By caring for yourself, you have mastered one of the best predictors of having a quality sexual relationship with your mate into octogenarian-hood.
One final note, sudden decreased sexual desire or sexual response can sometimes occur with other symptoms related to certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, or even emotions such as low self-esteem or as a result of trauma or attachment related issues- this list is by no means exhaustive and is no substitute for medical or psychological help.
In health and bliss,
Stephanie M. Wijkstrom, LPC, NCC
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh PA 15233
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 6, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, mindfulness, Uncategorized0 comments
Eros, Cupid, and Heart Shaped Boxes of Chocolate
“The Task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
Ah, February. That time of the year when the days slowly begin to increase, while the climate gives us a pining glimpse of why we love the summer months. Yet, in spite of the frostiness outside our bodies, there is warmth in our hearts. They pitter-patter or maybe they simply ooze with affection and reflection, indicating that now is a fine time for us to consider love. Eros in Greek and roman history is the god of passionate love, yet Carl Jung who later uses the work meant something very different by it.
Since the earliest times we have always been fascinated with the topic of romantic love – think Cupid, spritely son of Venus in Roman mythology. His message was quite simple; love is something that simply happens to us. It happens when we meet the perfect person who is our “soul mate.” We are always looking for our other half, the half that the Gods took from us. When we fall in love at first sight, then we have found someone that “fills” our anima or animus archetype particularly well. This match, cut from the same archetypal cloth, will make all of our short comings suddenly dissipate with the fulfillment of this perfection…uh-oh! With such a wishful perception of what it means to fall in love and linger in love, it is no wonder that Cupid’s arrows often result in more pain and disappointment than pleasure.
The desire to be a part of a romantic relationship is a very healthy one. Psychologists, philosophers, media outlets and the public chatter on endlessly about love. Yet sometimes this healthy urge can bring us to the pits of repetitive despair. There are those who seem to be in a new romantic relationship every month. Each liaison is asserted to finally be “the one.” However, as soon as true intimacy begins to take form emotional fears emerge and the person is off to find the next “one.” How about the friend who continually falls for “the one” that she ends up loathing? She embraces an idea of love that soon resembles a battlefield where tears replace laughter and frowns are misaligned, forced smiles. With the advent of social media there are those who increasingly hide behind keyboards instead of taking the risk to experience meaningful human interaction. Perhaps they are so afraid of the risks of love that they choose to stay far away from its possibilities and responsibilities?
Are there those who are simply addicted to love? The Top 40 catalog of popular music for the past 100 years would have us believe so. Recently neuroscientists have identified that there does seem to be a similar pathway which is involved in the formation and sustainment of all addictive behaviors, including an unhealthy need to always be “falling in love.” We know it is there, those who are suffering know that it is unhealthy, yet how do we move beyond the despair of repeatedly engaging in patterns that debase our sense of personal strength and hope?
So, what then is this thing called love? Love is a mutual interest in each other and in other things yet love is also maintenance of individuality and solo pursuits. Love is compassion and care for the self and for the other. Love is respect of the other and of others-in-the-world. Love is both, “I want to append to this person’s happiness and I will continue to be my own happiness.” Love is taking the time to listen and hear, being present with the other. Finally, love is speaking with positive clarity and authenticity to the values wants and needs of me and the other.
Remember when someone told you that love begins where and when you love yourself? Mature love will not sustain itself by an unhappy person trying to bring happiness to another—only the unity of the two nurturing mutual wholeness and happiness can ignite the chemical reaction of true and meaningful love. So if you are plodding along anxiously waiting for “the one” to appear, “the one” who is going to change the gloomy trajectory of your life, you may be waiting a while.
Seizing this moment to respect yourself, to love yourself in an authentic and mature fashion, will eventually ripple out into the ether and present an opportunity for you to experience the love of another in a new and significant way. Perhaps you have some thoughts about love that you would like to share?