6 Common Mistakes People Make when Considering Couples Therapy

Couple not talking to each other1. My insurance will provide a therapist. While insurance companies will provide a referral for you within their network, they may not be the best fit for you. Other aspects to take into consideration when using your insurance company are:

Breach of confidentiality of your records. Insurance companies require access to your records for audits purposes or if they’re challenging coverage of services.

Diagnosis. Some insurances will only cover couples therapy if there is a mental health diagnosis associated with the treatment, such as anxiety, depressions, bipolar, and so on. In addition, you are limited to therapist who are within network.

2. I’ll make an appointment the first person who answers the phone. If you’re under a crisis or difficult situation, it may seem productive to make an appointment with the first person who answers the phone. However, that may not be the best option. My suggestion will be to research and find information about the therapists that you’re considering. I also suggest to ask for a short phone consultation, which most therapist offers to give you an idea of how that therapist can help you. While talking to them, you will have an opportunity to asks questions.

3. The therapist is going to tell me that I’m right. While part of a therapist job is to help you feel understood and accepted, it’s not our job to be judges or take sides. I usually explain to my clients that their relationships is my client not them, and, I will advocate for the benefit of the relationship not who is right or wrong.

4. I’ll find a cheap therapist. If your insurance does not cover therapy or if you do not want to go through your insurance you may be tempted to shop around for low prices. I don’t blame you, you may not think that you can afford therapy. I absolutely encourage you to shop around for qualifications, but not for prices. Many times therapists who offers cheaper prices have less experience, may have recently graduated, or is in the process of obtaining his/her license to practice. I don’t know about you, but I would like someone with experience.

5. Any counselor or psychologist can provide couples therapy. Many counselors say that they do couples therapy, but they may not have the training and experience in this area. You want to make sure that your therapist is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), or has extensive experience working on this field, and the reality is that many therapist do not.

6. Everything is going to change after we talk to the therapist. Often times people expect that after the first session with a therapist things will get better. While they may leave the first session feeling hope about the future of their relationship, most things will not change afterwards. Change is a process that takes time, work, and dedication. The first session is an evaluation of the problem, and the time where an objective for the therapy is established.  The evaluation consist of an assessments of each partner’s history, past relationships, values, needs, and expectations.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes that people make when they consider receiving couples therapy. I hope that after learning about these you have a better idea about what to expect, and ultimately make an informed decision.

Is Love Enough?

1294618_41697379In my work with couples I’m often faced with this question, and unfortunately, love is not enough to maintain a relationship. Love can motivate actions or motivate you to work on a relationship, but to maintain a relationship takes two motivated individuals. Have you ever ended a relationship even though you loved that person? Have you been in a relationship with someone who said he or she loved you back, but his or her actions showed something different? Have you been repeatedly hurt by the person who says they love you? Have you ever loved someone who didn’t feel the same way about you? These are all instances where love was not enough.

I have found that commitment—defined as a long-term orientation toward a relationship, including intent to persist and feelings of psychological attachment (Wieselquist et al. 1999)—is a major factor in creating enduring long-term relationships. Without commitment, it’s easier to move on to find the next “better” partner for you. In fact, scientific studies confirm that human beings are neurologically able to love more than one person at a time (Fisher 2005). Therefore, a strong sense of commitment is needed in long-term relationships. This helps to avoid distractions and urges to act from feelings of lust and attraction towards others than your long-term relationship partner.  Other factors that have been identified in order to secure long-term relationships are cooperation, trust, and loyalty (Beck 1989).

I encounter much confusions about love when working with individuals in long-term relationships. My clients tell me things like: “I’m not in-love with him/her anymore,” “I don’t know if I love my partner the same way,” “I don’t have the same passion about my partner.” You may think some of the same things, because we have an idea of love that is highly influenced by mainstream culture: advertising, movies, TV shows, poems, songs, etc. Unfortunately, these influences create an unrealistic expectation about feelings, desires, and needs in relationships.

If you are in a long term relationship and have noticed that the love you feel for your partner is different from when you first got together, you’re experiencing something absolutely normal that comes with the changes you encounter as a relationship ages and evolves. Anthropologists and researchers have identified three stages of love in humans (Fisher 1998; 2005): Lust, attraction, and attachment. It’s believed that love evolves for mating and reproductive purposes, which allows us to live in long term relationships as we get older. Think about this: as our bodies age, even with the help of erectile dysfunction drugs, estrogen supplements, testosterone therapy, and hip replacements sex is not eternal. What stage of love are you currently in? Do you think that your partner feels the same way? What are you and your partner expecting of your relationship in the future? These are great questions for you to discussed together.



How can you get through the holiday stress without killing your spouse?

holiday couple

The holidays are a happy time for all, but holiday stress can influence the likelihood of entering into arguments with your significant other. The pressures of attending parties or organizing your own, in addition to everyday responsibilities can make it difficult to get along with others. It may seem like all of the responsibility is on you, and you wish that you got help from your partner. Feeling irritable and having short patience can easily happen, which can lead to arguments and conflict with your significant other. Here are 8 ways to keep you both from fighting during this time:

  1. Remind yourself that this is temporary. The holiday season has a beginning and an end.
  2. Be mindful of your own or your partner’s stressors and talk about them. That way you both know what’s going on and can support each other.
  3. Make an effort to validate and support your partner when he or she is having a hard time.
  4. Plan ahead, especially if you’re meeting with people who are not liked or not desirable by you or your partner. Discuss worst case scenarios and prepare an exit strategy.
  5. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt before assuming that he or she is doing something on purpose.
  6. Avoid over drinking since alcohol inhibits our decision making and can lead to volatile conflicts.
  7. Team up with your partner to divide tasks or responsibilities like preparation for events, dinners and shopping. Remember you’re both stressed out.
  8. Ask your partner for help. Avoid assuming that your partner is going to guess or magically “know” that you need help. He or she is not a mind reader. Give him or her a chance to be there for you.

I hope that these tips can help make your holiday season run smoother and help you feel supported and closer to your partner.

      Happy Holidays!

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Ashley Madison

ashley-madison-hed-2014I first heard about Ashley Madison a while back, when a new client told me that she had proof that her husband was repeatedly cheating on her as a result of numerous charges from Ashley Madison and random hotels to their credit cards. I went home that day and researched more about Ashley Madison and to my surprise, there was this website motivating people to find new and exciting adventures outside of their committed relationship. The most surprising factor was that the website was targeting individuals in a committed relationship. I read reviews about the website and articles about it. The website offers different level subscriptions, from which their ultimate level (the most expensive one) warranties that you find a match to go outside your boring routine and into an exciting adventure with an individual who you don’t have to see ever again, for a monthly charge. More so, they warranty confidentiality of their activities.
The fact that a credit card charge will be on record is already a sign that the activities can be traced. Today, the big news is that Ashley Madison’s site was hacked, leaving 37 million profiles open to be exposed.

In my opinion Ashley Madison is like any drug dealer, bookie, or gambling entity (some legal and other illegal depending on where you live) that prey on the vulnerabilities of individuals to make a profit. Drug dealers take advantage of individuals with poor coping skills who struggle with internal suffering by using drugs to mask their feelings. Ashley Madison is a “services” that connect individuals who want to ignore their own issues or problems in their relationship by focusing on meeting new people who are also escaping from their problems, all while making a profit.

What happened today is merely a consequence to their actions. I can’t say that i’m not glad that this happened, because I see the pain and destruction that Ashley Madison can bring to the life of many individuals who choose to involve in this kind of activity, to their spouse and ultimately their family. Keep in mind that Ashley Madison is not a new concept, anyone can meet other individuals who are looking to hook up for the night no strings attached, but eventually it takes time and effort to continue doing this. Ashley Madison made it very simple to arrange encounters of this type with little effort, other than your credit card information.

Hopefully the individuals at risk of being exposed can use this opportunity to choose honesty (which otherwise may come if they’re exposed) and address the motivations that have lead them to seek a double life.

Affairs and infidelities can be motivated by a number of different reasons, such as depression, anxiety, life changes, a need for excitement, as ego booster, in an effort to cope with stress, low self esteem, past abuse and more. Addressing these areas will cause less damage than choosing to have an affair. Therapy is a way to address all of these areas in a safe environment, so if you’re struggling with any of these, seeking professional help can prevent you from making poor choices for yourself and your family.

Are your actions in your relationship helping you or hurting you?

Attachment We all want to be special to our partner- to feel important, to be desired, ultimately to be loved and secured. These needs can lead us to do or say many irrational things such as fighting, pursuit, insult and even bullying a partner which ultimately damages the relationship and decreases the chances of feeling loved and secure. We can work against our objectives without even knowing it. Therefore, learning to identify what these are can be difficult. According to attachment researcher and theorist John Bowlby (1958) we learn patterns of relating through our relationship with caregivers since infancy. Hazan and Shaver therapist and researchers (1987, 1990, 1994) took Bowlby’s theory and proposed that romantic love is a process of the same attachment or relational pattern we learn as infants and in childhood, they also proposed a classification for adult interactions with loving partners. Their classification includes: Secure Attachment, Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment, Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment, and Fearful-Avoidant Attachment.

Secure Attachment individuals can balance intimacy and independence. They usually have a positive view of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Needless to say, secure attachment individuals can have healthier and happier relationships with little effort.

Anxious-Preoccupied individuals have a hard time trusting. They want to feel elevated levels of intimacy, and may exhibit intense emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsive behaviors in their relationships. They often seek an increased approval from partners usually leading to a sense of dependency or “neediness”. They have less positive views about themselves and their partners.

Dismissive-Avoidant individuals aspire a high level of independency. They may even appear to avoid attachment or closeness altogether. These individuals perceive themselves as self-sufficient and not needing close relationships. They suppress their feelings, and deal with rejection by distancing themselves from partners of whom they usually have a poor opinion.

Fearful-avoidant individuals go back and forward about their feelings towards close relationships, both desiring closeness and feeling uncomfortable with it. They often have difficulty trusting their partners and see themselves as unworthy. They may avoid intimacy and suppress their feelings.

We all share small traits of all of the previous classifications, however we may find we gradually fall under one of them more often than not. Remember that these relating behaviors are usually learned at an early age and are mostly unconscious, so that we are not doing them on purpose. Our brain is programmed to work this way when interacting with other important people in our lives. The first step to change is to identify that this is happening. Once you accept that is a problem in your life you can take steps to make things different. Change is possible, with determination and commitment you can learn new ways to relate to others close to you. Learning more effective ways to communicate your emotions can be useful if you’re trying to alter a negative patterns of interaction. Because change is a difficult process, many seek therapeutic help but it may not be necessary.

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12 Reasons relationships do not work out

Do all relationships have to work out? I’m often faced with this question in one form of another in my work with couples. As a couple’s therapist I would like to be able to help every couple that comes to me asking for help. The truth is that it’s not always the case. Here are some common reasons relationships do not work out:

  1. Not being fully invested into the relationship.
  2. Difficulty Trusting.
  3. Inability to forgive the other for the mistakes made in the past.
  4. Abuse, either physically, psychologically or emotionally.
  5. Unrealistic Expectations, which usually leads to focusing on the negative.
  6. The existence of an addiction or a mental illness with or without treatment.
  7. Failure to communicate needs in the relationship.
  8. Lack of respect for each other.
  9. Inability to reach compromises when opposite ideals, opinions, or beliefs.
  10. Difficulty dedicating time to the relationship.
  11. Believing that one “needs” a partner instead of wanting to be with partner
  12. Fear. Different fears apply: Fear of losing a partner or jealousy, fear of settling for less, often referred to as “the grass is greener on the other side,” and fear of commitment.

It is important to mention that each one of these areas needs to be addressed separately, either individually or with partner. If a couple comes to therapy in an effort to improve their relationship and work on any of these areas, one or both partners may find it difficult, as a result the couple discontinues therapy usually at an early stage. At times, couples do not even make it to therapy. If this is the case, one or both partners decide to end the relationship. There are no warranties that the person that you’re in a relationship with is the person for you. However, if the previous issues are identified and worked on, relationships can last and be filled with love and joy. Couples can try to solve these issues on their own and be successful, but often times they end up seeking professional help. Therapy can be a difficult process, things can get worse before they get better, it requires effort, commitment, time, and money. More importantly, therapy can also be a place where feelings are brought up to the surface, where new more positive behaviors can be learned, where compromises can be made, and alternative solutions can be found. Follow me on Google

6 Tips to become a better listener in your relationship

One of the major causes that couples seek professional help for is their difficulty communicating, especially listening.  This prevents couples from understanding each other and, even more importantly, from solving problems or compromising.  Therefore, the same problems keep coming up time after time.

I want to clarify that most people do not learn to listen effectively.  We usually learn how to listen growing up in our environment, form our parents or role models.  We all don’t have the fortune to grow up around effective communicators.  We usually encounter difficulty in our relationships, at home, at work and, and in our friendships before we realize that we need to work on our listening skills.

In my experience, active listening is one of the most important communication skills.  Here are some basic active listening techniques that I usually teach couples who are seeking to improve their communication:

  1. Clarifying : Asking questions to help you understand what the speaker is trying to say. Example: “Are you saying that I insulted you?”
  2. Restating:  Restate your understanding of what is being said with facts or the basic idea of what is being communicated. Example: “Just so I understand, you’re saying that I called you at an inappropriate time yesterday?”
  3. Encouraging: Showing interest in what the speaker is saying by using neutral words and a neutral tone of voice in an effort to encourage him/her to continue talking. Examples: “Go on….” , “O.K.”,  “Uh huh.”
  4. Summarizing: Reviewing progress of the conversation, restating major ideas, and establishing a basis for further discussion.  Example: “Let me make sure that I understand what you’re saying. You’re frustrated at work because your boss is given you extra responsibilities?”
  5. Validating: Acknowledging the other person’s feelings, efforts and worthiness.  Example: “It sounds like you put a lot of effort into finishing your project at work.”
  6. Reflecting: To reflect the speaker’s basic feelings as you understand them. Example:  “You seem sad about your friend moving to a different town.”

These active listening skills can be challenging to put into action because our feelings about a situation can get in the way of our efforts to be effective communicators.  However, with the help of a professional and practice, you can learn to master these skills and become a better communicator.

If you’re struggling with communicating in your relationship and you have tried everything you can think of, maybe it’s time to seek the help of a professional.

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High Expectations?

Often times we have expectations about others, the world, and ourselves.  Expectations for ourselves can help us succeed and accomplish the objectives we set in life. Unfortunately, expectations can also bring much disappointment when we believe that others share our expectations or will share them in the future, but they do not or will not.  This belief can bring feelings of disappointment, hurt, frustration, stress, and even anger towards our loved ones. I have learn to believe that the more expectations we have of others, the greater the chances are that they will let us down.  This statement can sound confusing and even strange for some, because it’s a fairly common practice to have expectations of others, especially our loved ones.

I would like to clarify that there is a difference between asking for what we want and expecting others to give us what we want because they “should” give it to us. There is also a difference between what is a priority for us and what is a priority for others. Using words like should, should not, have to, and ought to can communicate expectations.

In an effort to avoid further disappointment, hurt, stress, frustration, and anger, I suggest lowering some expectations, especially the ones that keep disappointing us time after time.  Of course, easier said than done.  Many people come to therapy in an effort to let go of their expectations and learn to identify the beliefs where these expectations are rooted.  Through the work in therapy, individuals and couples can learn new ways to communicate their needs and desires from their loved ones without the expectation that causes feelings of hurt and anger.

If people, the world, and even yourself keeps letting you down, maybe it’s time that you talk to a professional who may be able to help you.  You can free yourself from constant disappointed, hurt, frustration, and anger towards your love ones who disregard or refuse to do what you ask for.  Call me at (813) 419-3262 for a free 10 minute phone consultation.

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Overcome Fear

In order to know how to overcome fear it’s important that we understand what it is.  Fear is a primary emotion that comes from the natural aversion to risk or threat, all humans experience this emotion.

Fear is an emotion characterized by an intense feeling, usually unpleasant, caused by the perception of a threat, real or perceived, present, future or past. Fear causes immediate physiological changes: increases blood pressure, blood flow to the large muscles (muscle tension) and the heart pumps blood at high speed. There are also significant facial changes: enlargement of the eye to improve vision, dilated to facilitate the admission of light, forehead creases and lips are stretched horizontally.  The body’s reaction to fear is called fight or flight.

Fear can be transformed into extreme nerves and anxiety. Many times we are afraid of what might happen in the future, and this can limits us to the point that it can even affect our success and achievements at work and in our relationships.

Anxiety is described as feeling fear without having a clear reason.  There may be other feelings along with anxiety, and a feeling of tightness in the chest, stomach pain, nausea, or a feeling that something awful is about to happen. These feelings can be very frightening. Sometimes, anxiety interferes with things you need to do, such as work and sleep.  Anxiety can be common in some families. Or a person may begin to experience feelings of anxiety after something terrible happens, like a car accident or a traumatic experience. Occasionally, some diseases can lead to feelings of anxiety such as cardiac disease, hyperthyroidism, among others . Anxiety can also develop when you consume alcohol or other drugs, such as cocaine.

Fear can be experienced about many situations, animals, objects and even love and relationships.  In the case of love and relationships, if we live in a family where our parents were unfaithful or had a violent relationship, it is very likely that when we are adults we are afraid of the same thing happening to us, we want to protect ourselves at all costs from experiencing pain.  We often appropriate the anguish of our parents, we tried to do something to make them feel better or we convince ourselves that we have no choice but to run with the same fate. Fear of the pain caused by love can lead to a cycle of destructive relationships, which unfortunately can still cause pain.

We can overcome fear by facing it. It is important to beginning with minor fears, in an effort to improve our self-esteem to give us confidence in ourselves to continue confronting fears. Remember that most of the times we are afraid because we think what something may or will happen, but no one can guarantee it. Try to challenge your fear  instead of living limited by fear. Challenging fear can be a difficult task, specially if you’re experiencing anxiety. If you’re experiencing anxiety, you can benefit from the help of a professional who can assist you in your effort to overcome fears in a way that is safe for you and your relationships.

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Forgiveness is the action to let go or give up resentment, indignation or anger caused by an offense committed by another or ourselves. It’s a voluntary change of destructive behaviors directed against the damage that has been done for other more constructive.

When we hurt the immediate reaction is to go against logic and who hurt us, this reaction is natural and logical bur it has it’s problems.  Forgiveness is not a single act that is done in a given time, is an ongoing process that can go deeper and completing over time. So there are several steps of forgiveness that can be considered as a series of tasks that are completed and increasing the process up to the fullest extent of forgiveness. Everett L. Worthinton describes Five Steps to Forgiveness as follow:

  1. Recall the hurt – This can be a difficult step since naturally we try to scape hurt mentally and physically. but escaping thoughts is more difficult and can be highly frustrating.  Forgiveness can be difficult if feelings of fear and anger dominate you.  If you’re attacking the person who hurt you forgiveness will not be possible.  One way to overcome the fear and anger is to recall the hurt and accept the pain for what it is.  Again, this can be a difficult task to do on your own.  Seeking help can facilitate the process.
  2. Empathize with the one who hurt you – Trying to understand the other person not from your own perspective, but from that of the other person. The purpose is not to find an excuse for them, but to find an explanation that you can live with, and possible let go of the fear and anger.
  3. Offer the Altruistic gift of forgiveness – Think of a time when you felt guilty about hurting another and how that person forgave you.  Think about how grateful you felt.
  4. Make a Commitment to forgive – This commitment is better to be done publicly so you don’t have a chance to back up later.
  5. Hold on to the forgiveness – Form time to time, memories of the hurtful event will resurface even after you have forgives the wrongdoer.  These memories are usually less intense as they were before forgave the wrongdoer.

Studies have been done measuring the consequences of procedures of  these and similar steps to learn and practice forgiveness. These studies consistently show that forgiveness reduces chronic anger, fear and stress, increases optimism and brings health benefits.

Forgiveness is NOT:

Forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation. To forgive or ask for forgiveness are personal choices that do not require the assistance of another person. However, reconciliation is for two. For example, forgiveness will not ever restore the relationship with someone who most likely can return to harm.

Forgiveness does not mean forget what happened, it involves changing destructive behaviors to positive behaviors towards the offender, as indicated.

Forgiveness is not justifying the offense or minimize it.

Forgiveness is not necessarily to raise the penalty of the offender and not suffer the consequences of their actions. For there to be reconciliation requires that the offender makes a restitution of the damage he/she has done, if possible, or serve the sentence that society imposes. Forgiveness is for the forgiver to stop searching actively for justice and is sparing with the consequences, since the expected justice will not necessarily bring emotional release.

Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, because it is not giving permission to another to hurt again, but instead being careful not to let others hurt us again.

Forgiveness can be a difficult process, do not hesitate to seek the help of a loved one or a professional if you’re having difficulty with forgiving.

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