Monthly Archives: February 2014

Six things That People Who Need a Couples Counselor Might Say

Robin Thicke and Paula Patton announced their split after a 9-year marriage.  The High school sweethearts released a statement that “We will always love each other and be best friends, however, we have mutually decided to separate at this time” While seeing the break-up of an apparently happy celebrity couple who have made such public declarations of their love can feel sudden, they may may have been struggling with the decision for some time. It is always difficult when a couple decides to part ways, but many times, the damage in a relationship can be repaired.  Unfortunately, the average couple waits 7 years before seeking assistance.  Often the catalyst is that one person has already begun to think about leaving and is looking for the validation to do so.  There are warning signs that relationship may be headed for trouble. Often the warning signs are bright and flashing.  They are simple statements that they hear themselves saying that reveal can revel deep underlying trouble. The sooner those signs can be recognized and addressed; the best chance a couple has to saving their relationship.

1. “We sleep apart”

Often one partner may snore or have trouble sleeping and waking up the other.   They sleep in separate beds to preserve the important rest needed to function.  While lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, touching our partner can actually reduce stress.  Hugging or handholding can result in the decrease of the stress hormone cortisol.  When we touch our partner, we release a neuropeptide called oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin promotes feelings of devotion and well being. Closeness, cuddling and skin to skin touch are important to bonding. Couples should explore ways emotionally or physically to solve these problems so they can comfortably sleep together again.  In therapy a couple can uncover whether the lack of touch has become a cause or symptom of relationship trouble.

2. “We haven’t been intimate in months”

Oftentimes, couples get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of life, work and family and put sex on the back burner.  Initially the reasons may seem practical, they are tired, working too much, involved with their children.  If they are not careful however, the lack of sex can become problematic.   Having sex less than a couple of times per year is also a warning sign that connectedness is missing in you relationship. Sex is important for bonding and is great for the overall sense of wellbeing as a couple and as individuals. Sex can be a tricky issue for couples and a seasoned therapist can help the couple make sure that the problems are not deeper than the couple realize.

3. “My partner isn’t as _________ as yours is”

Another sign that a couple should seek help is when one person finds his or herself comparing their partner with others and feeling like their partner is coming up short. When a negative stance towards your partner over takes your attitude, it can turn into a death spiral for the relationship that is difficult to pull out of. A Couples therapist can teach how to slow down and expand how you view your spouse. It is likely that when the relationship is looked at objectively before resentment has become entrenched, couples can learn to be more be honest and find that there is most likely good and bad to consider. The couple can learn techniques to focus on the good, and express to gratitude for each other.

4. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Using a condescending tone or heavy sarcasm can be the harbinger of trouble for many relationships. When one partner communicates disdain and superiority to their partner, it kills safety and closeness. A condescending tone effectively shuts down love.  A therapist can help to explore what emotions are underlying this communication style and find ways to treat one another with respect.

5.  “I can talk to my co-worker about everything I can talk to my partner about”

A clear sign that a relationship is in trouble is if one member of a couple finds themselves sharing intimate, emotionally charged information a person outside the relationship. Be aware that telling someone you are attracted to about private aspects of your life can become a slippery slope to emotional betrayal that will ultimately destroy your relationship. Keeping the relationship secret, hiding phones or emails or lying to your spouse about your where you are, are all warning signs relationship is in deep trouble even if it has never progressed to anything physical.  A couples counselor can help uncover how that opening to another outside the relationship began and how to restore that emotional closeness with your partner.

6. “You weren’t there for me when I needed you.”

Another trouble sign is and attachment wound. An attachment wound is a hurt one partner caused the other at a particularly important moment. Often the partner who caused the hurt is unaware of the hurt he or she caused or has consistently minimized the hurt over time causing further trauma. Attachment wounds are emotional time bombs. They are gashes in the most precious bonds we hold dear. They occur when the person you most rely on to have your back lets you down emotionally at a moment in time when you were particularly vulnerable. Perhaps it is one a wife does not take defend her husband when her father criticizes him, or when a wife feels her husband doesn’t understand why she still feels upset by a miscarriage years before. These types of emotional trauma can severely undermine the trust and security of the relationship. An attachment wound may simmer below the surface in a relationship, blowing up years later.

Whether we have said these statements aloud or just in our heads, they are trouble signs in relationships.  These signs start in small, insidious ways, if we are not careful it is can lose one another. We slip past our partner’s emotional needs and don’t attend to their hurts, fears and shame.  Each of us yearns for emotional bonding. The trick is to nurture it in our committed relationships. Unfortunately couples counseling is stigmatized and we only seek help as a last resort. The key to preserving our relationships is to seek help when the first signs appear.  Unfortunately, couples counseling is stigmatized which is unfortunate. Couples need to all embrace the notion that help is available. We all know that regular checkups lead to prevention of diseases in or bodies and can prevent a trip to a specialist.   A qualified couples counselor can prevent disease in our relationship from festering and leading its death.  If you find yourself making these statements, seek help before it is too late.

How Relationship Experts Connect with Their Partners

Check out an expert from this recent article on Psych Central featuring Trevor’s advice on how to stay connected with your partner.

“To me, connecting is saying, ‘I see you. I love you just the way you are,’ and having that sentiment returned,” said Meredith Richardson, Esq., a mediator, conflict coach and trainer who creates retreats designed to help partners be their best selves.

She and her husband connect in small ways every day. For instance, they kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you,” when one leaves the house.

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy, and her husband have a similar ritual. When they’re leaving, they put their hand to their hearts and open it out. “It’s a visual symbol of ‘you have my heart.’” Then when they reunite, they hug for 20 seconds, “long enough to stimulate the bonding hormone oxytocin.”

Bush described connection as feeling like you’re close to your partner and you both understand each other. “You feel like you’re true partners in every sense of the word,” from making decisions together to supporting each other.

Because she and her husband were both previously divorced, they have “a heightened sensitivity to creating an environment where we connect.” For instance, they regularly look at how they’re spending their time. If they’ve spent a few nights doing separate activities, they schedule time together.

They also hold “evening meetings.” They go in their bedroom, light a candle, and sit side by side for 10 minutes (without talking about work, money, kids or to-do lists).

Below, relationship experts share other ways they connect with their spouses.

They cook together.

Psychotherapist ChristinaSteinorth, MFT, and her husband connect by preparing meals — from going to the farmer’s market to picking the wine to plating the food. “[W]e sip wine and laugh while we prepare our meal and because we created something together, it gives us a shared experience.”

They do chores together.

Steinorth, author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships, and her husband also work on chores together. “We get our chores done faster when we work together, plus it gives us extra free time to do something fun.”

Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC, a psychotherapist at UrbanBalance, and his wife organize their home and work on renovations together.

They touch each other.

“Touch has a really powerful effect,” said Bush, co-author with her husband of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage. They regularly hold hands, give each other neck rubs, touch legs or arms at dinner and touch each other when they’re passing in the hallway.

They get out of the house.

“We regularly get out of our environment to share joyful activities like boating, skiing, kayaking, or rides in the country,” said SusanLager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Steinorth and her husband bowl, golf, travel and exercise together.

They do thoughtful things.

TrevorCrow, MFT, an expert on modern relationships, and her husband regularly do small thoughtful things for each other. For instance, he recently fixed Crow’s calendar on her laptop. She recently bought new bowls after he mentioned he didn’t like their old ones. These small gestures convey that they hear each other and want to make the other happy.

Lager’s husband welcomes her home with a fire in their fireplace. “Every single night he does this, I shriek with delight and thank him profusely, even though it’s a regular event.” When she’s home first, she welcomes him with hors d’oeuvres and dinner.

They engage in activities that are meaningful to each other.

“I am a kinesthetic person and touching or rubbing relaxes me, calms me, and makes me feel connected,” said Erik R. Benson, MSW, LCSW, a private therapist in the Chicago and North Suburbs area. Even though this doesn’t come naturally to his wife, she’s learned to use touch to connect with him daily.

Benson’s learned that she appreciates what he does, especially when it’s without asking. “When I stepped back and looked at all that she does from the big picture perspective, I mean really sawand acknowledged what she does – and admitted I have no idea how she does it, that was a moment of deeper connection for us too.”

He also spends at least 30 minutes listening to her. When his wife was a stay-at-home mom, this was especially important. “[S]ome days I was the only adult conversation she had in the day.”

Karmin’s wife loves to sew and knit. He watches the kids so she can focus on her crafting.

They stay in touch throughout the day.

All the experts mentioned texting each other during the day. For instance, Karmin texts his wife photos of silly things he sees to make her laugh. He also emails her poems (“Neruda and Shel Silverstein are favorites.”)

They pay attention to their passions.

“I find that in my own relationship, as well as that of my couples clients, it is very important to be interested in what your partner values and spends their time doing,” said Douglas Stephens, Ed.D, MSW, LICSW, co-author of The Couples’ Survival Workbook.

“There are thousands of ways to [connect with your partner],”Richardson said. Every individual is different. Every relationship is different, and thereby, the needs of every relationship will be different, too, she said.

So what are the special needs of your relationship?

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The One Thing Couples Do To Ruin Valentines’s Day

Every Valentine’s Day people everywhere have high expectations for that one special night where they will feel loved and celebrated only to have their hopes dashed by the night ending up in disappointment.  Couples in long term relationships today are busy with the responsibilities of work, family and other commitments and often just don’t have enough time to spend together.  They get together on their special night and make one critical mistake.  They begin to discuss the “business” of the couple.  Whether it is the new interest rate on the mortgage or the D their child received in math, what can start out as simple conversation can quickly bring those stressors right into the middle of your special time.  This Valentine’s Day, create a happy, light and loving vibe between you and your lover. Yes, there are possibly serious things you may need to discuss, this year, plan to save them for another time or address them well ahead of Valentines’ Day. Focus on the positive energy between you. Let yourself be loved. Many of us are great at giving love but not at receiving love.

Here are some ideas on how to heighten your connection and desire.


  • First, plan on making love at the beginning of the evening. By the end of the night you may be tired and many things can get in the way.  Send the kids out for an hour or two and begin the night in the bedroom.  Light candles, set the scene and enjoy!
  • Be sure wear something that makes you feel sexy or loving, our lovers love to feel that we have made an effort just for them.
  • Take a steamy photo (think Kim Kardashian’s famous selfie), print and put inside a box of chocolates for a happy and sexy surprise.
  • Select 3 gifts that are small and inexpensive that remind you of your lover. For example, if you think he is hot, give him a lighter. Create a treasure hunt that leads to the bedroom…
  • Play a game, role play for example. Be your favorite sexy star and have him or her guess who you are.
  • Have fun with it!


  • Bring up frustrations or arguments at this time. If you are deeply unhappy with your lover, express your feelings well ahead of time and hash it out or wait until after Valentine’s Day.
  • Don’t be disappointed. Your lover may not give you something you wanted specifically or may have forgotten about Valentine’s Day all together.  Believe your other is trying in his or her way and it might be best to discuss it later.
  • Don’t flirt with others or bring up past relationships. Focus on the two of you this evening.
  • Don’t come on too strong in a new relationship. This may be scary for your new lover.
  • Don’t be anxious or perfectionistic, try to roll or flow with the loving energy of the evening.

Enjoy, have the “felt sense” of love, warmth, and connection and FEEL how good the experience is. When we create positive healthy interactions, we create new healthy neurological pathways. Everyone benefits, your family, your health and that of your partner. We are all better, stronger and healthier when we are in supportive relationships.

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