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5 Ways to Get The Most Out of Relationship Counseling

Some people believe you will know you are truly in love, when everything feels easy and falls exactly into place. However, the reality is that love, even true love, is not always easy. This is because relationships are not easy. No matter how much you like and love one another, and how compatible you may be, there will be times when you disagree or even argue. When you recognize your relationship is not all that you want it to be, you might consider relationship counseling. Many people use relationship counseling for many different reasons. Learn more about this approach and how it can help you:

What is Relationship Counseling?

It is highly likely that you have heard of relationship counseling and have at least some ideas of what it might entail. Relationship counseling is similar in some ways to individual counseling. One difference is that you attend with your partner or partners. Another big difference is that the focus will be on the relationship, rather than any one person. However, in some cases, relationship counseling might reveal that one or both partners could also benefit from some individual counseling to address certain issues.

Relationship counseling usually involves regular sessions with one or more mental health providers. Sometimes couples may benefit from meeting with a pair of counselors, perhaps a pair that are themselves in a relationship. The relationship counseling sessions may be weekly or every other week, depending on the counselors’ recommendations and the couples’ preferences.

Why Relationship Counseling?

Relationship counseling can be beneficial at different points in a relationship and it can be used to address many different concerns. Some couples pursue relationship counseling early on to start well and establish healthy communication patterns. Many couples choose to pursue couples counseling before they marry or make a big commitment to one another to smooth out any potential problems.

There are also many other common concerns that might lead a couple to seek relationship counseling. One problem that sends many couples into counseling is infidelity. Many couples want help moving past this and are able to either repair the relationship or let the counseling process assist in bringing the relationship to an end. Obviously, it is ideal to seek counseling prior to this, to prevent the infidelity.

Couples who experience a loss, such as through miscarriage or the death of a child, often seek counseling to help them cope with their grief. Aside from this type of unexpected challenge, parenting is generally difficult. Many couples use relationship counseling to help them co-parent effectively and to balance that with also maintaining their core relationship.

Other issues that can drive couples into relationship counseling can be ongoing disagreements, new changes and challenges, and a sense of growing apart rather than together. Moreover, research from John Gottman has suggested that individuals with relationship problems tend to share some common challenges. Gottman entitled these challenges, the four horsemen.

Gottman’s Four Horsemen

After extensive research, Gottman found four factors that, when present, suggest major relationship problems likely to cause the end of a relationship or divorce. Gottman described these using the analogy of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. In the relationship arena, these represent criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Learn more about each:

In Gottman’s model, criticism is more than just a critique of a specific issue. Instead, it is described as attacks on one’s partner. These attacks may go after more than just a specific characteristic and instead target their entire core character. When partners are too critical of one another, it can lead to feelings of rejection and emotional pain. Overtime, the behavior and the resulting feelings can eat away at a relationship, until it dissolves entirely.

Gottman’s second horsemen is contempt. When someone is feeling contempt towards another person, they behave in ways that are downright disrespectful. This may show up in behaviors such as name calling, making sarcastic comments, mimicking body language, and eye-rolling. The target of the contempt eventually feels worthless and despised. Both are unhappy.

Defensiveness is another horseman. This typically appears when one partner is responding to critique. It may appear as excuse making or even playing the innocent victim. This is not helpful because no improvement or growth can occur in the relationship. It will often leave the partner who made the critique feeling as though their concerns are not being taken seriously. Ultimately, they may also start to feel hopeless about whether there can be any improvement.

The final horseman is stonewalling. In this, one partner withdraws and shuts down, rather than participating in discussion. Again, this keeps problems from getting resolved. If left unaddressed it can be deleterious for a relationship. The exhibition of this or any of the other three horsemen typically suggests that a couple needs the help of relationship counseling.

From Boredom to Growth

Another issue that can drive couples to seek relationship counseling is boredom. Often when couples become bored it is because things have become standard and routine. This may occur both in and outside the bedroom. When a couple is feeling bored, and perhaps as though they are stagnating, relationship counseling can give them the boost they need. A couples counselor can help the partners identify the areas for improvement to move away from boredom. In a healthy relationship, both partners should instead feel they are able to grow in the relationship.

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)?

Many couples struggle to communicate because one or both partners is unable to identify their own emotions and unable to recognize the way those emotions affect the relationship. For this reason, Emotion-Focused Therapy is a helpful approach in relationship counseling. In EFT, the partners are taught more about emotions, how to recognize them, how to express them, and how to manage them well as a couple, rather than letting those emotions run wild and negatively affect the relationship.

Relationship Counseling

5 Tips for Couples Therapy

If you choose to attend therapy, you want to make the most of it and get as much out of it as possible. Aside from finding the right therapist and attending regularly, there are a few other things you can do to make therapy as effective as possible for you and your relationship:

  1. Start Early

Like most things in life, relationship counseling is better late than never, but it truly is better to start early. You can always use couples therapy to address your struggles at any point. However, when you start noticing signs of problems, seek out relationship counseling before they worsen. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that your relationship will develop the detrimental four horsemen. It also gets increasingly difficult to resolve any differences and improve the relationship.

  1. Commit to the Time

Also, like most things in life, to get anything out of relationship counseling, you really must commit to the time (and the process). Couples counseling will not resolve every problem overnight, especially if those problems have been building up for a long time. So, it will likely take some time. This could be a few weeks or a few months—it all depends on your unique situation. Take your counselors’ recommendation for the time-frame and show up to appointments so you can get help.

  1. Do Your Homework

Relationship counseling takes more than just attending sessions with your therapist. If you only did that, you would likely struggle to take what you learn in therapy into your daily life. To help you take what you discuss and learn into your daily life, your therapist will likely sometimes ask you to complete homework. Now, this is different than the homework you did in school. Often, it involves practicing different newly learned skills and techniques, or having discussions about various topics.

  1. Focus on How You Can Change (Not Changing Your Partner)

In relationships, it can often be easier to see the faults in the other person and perhaps lose sight of the problems you bring to the relationship. This can lead many partners to enter relationship counseling with the idea that this will be the perfect setting for their significant other to see what they are doing wrong, and then make a bunch of changes that will fix the relationship. Ultimately, this stance will not be helpful. The reality is, usually both partners are contributing to the relationship problems in their own way. Each will need to take responsibility to see improvement.

  1. Go “All-In” On the Process

Finally, to really see success in relationship counseling, you need to fully invest yourself in the process. This means having the mindset that you want to work on your relationship and improve it. It also means being open and honest. Use the space of relationship counseling along with the unbiased support of the counselor, to discuss things you might otherwise hold back. Going “all-in” may take bravery and a bit of pushing yourself, but it will be worth it to improve your relationship.

Challenges of Relationship Counseling

Relationship counseling can sometimes be difficult. There can be some logistical barriers in trying to align your schedule, with your partner’s schedule, and the schedule of your chosen therapist. Then, of course, many people still feel a barrier from attending counseling due to a fear of others noticing. This may especially matter if you reside in a small town or have a high-profile relationship.

Beyond the logistical barriers, there can also be emotional barriers. Many people feel hesitant to attend counseling because it can seem scary to discuss your private life with a veritable stranger. The good news is that typically after a session or two, most people become very comfortable with their counselor. Other times, people fear that the process may not work. Here, the good news is that research shows relationship counseling can help most people to achieve the goal of improving their relationship.

There are some instances when relationship counseling may not and perhaps even should not be successful. In cases of abuse, relationship counseling will not necessarily be helpful or recommended. In these cases, the abuser will usually need individual counseling to improve their behaviors. There may also be other times when a counselor observes that one or both members of the couple actually needs individual therapy either concurrently with relationship counseling, or before couples therapy can occur.

At times, a couple may elect to use relationship counseling to facilitate the dissolution of a relationship when they have already decided that is the outcome they want. This can be helpful for divorcing parents, who want to maintain a working relationship, so they can effectively co-parent. This is not necessarily a challenge, but the outcome of counseling may appear different than is typically expected.

Relationship Counseling Online

Today, many people are choosing to seek relationship counseling through online platforms. This approach can offer many benefits over traditional face-to-face couples’ therapy.

For one thing, with online counseling, there is an increased level of confidentiality and privacy. If you are concerned about others (such as nosy neighbors or gossipy grandmothers) noticing that you are seeking counseling, then online relationship counseling can be the perfect solution. Since this approach can be done from the privacy of your home, no one will know you are seeking help.

Online counseling can also be much more convenient. If you and your partner have busy schedules, children to manage, and other barriers that might prevent you from attending weekly in-person sessions, then it may be much easier for you to regularly connect with a therapist online. You may be able to find a provider who can match your busy schedule and limited availability. This is also helpful if you live in a small town or rural area, where there are a limited number of or no qualified providers.

Thrive Talk

If you choose to seek therapy online, you want to choose a platform that will be convenient and confidential, with quality services. One option is Thrive Talk. This platform is simple to use. You simply set up an account and then get matched with a therapist. There are many different providers to choose from. Each is well-trained and appropriately licensed. After that, you can use the online platform to schedule an appointment at any time that is most convenient for you.

Click Here to Talk to a Therapist Now

 

 

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Forgive & Forget? How to Let Go of Your Past and Forgive Yourself

 

You keep reliving it even though it was years ago. You wake up from a dead sleep, play the whole thing in your head and cringe. Why did you say that? What were you thinking? You shouldn’t beat yourself up over the past, but if you do, you’re certainly not alone.

Four in five women suffer from low self-esteem, the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found. Low self-confidence can spill over into other areas of your life, causing nine out of ten women who suffer from it to avoid important activities such as socializing with friends when they don’t feel like they look good. This can breed anxiety and anger, making it difficult to forgive those perceived as contributing to your emotional distress. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to break this cycle. Here are five ways to and let go of past baggage that’s holding you back.

How to Let Go of Your Past

Accept How Your Values Have Changed Since the Past

One of the hardest parts of learning to forgive can be forgiving yourself. Often, we blame ourselves for our past, making it hard to forgive ourselves, which affects our ability to forgive others. Americans generally find it easier to forgive others than themselves, with 53 percent willing to seek help forgiving others, while only 43 percent are willing to seek help forgiving themselves, according to Fetzer Institute research.

One thing that can make forgiving yourself easier is realizing that your values have changed since the incident that hurt you. You probably thought and behaved very differently at that time in your life than you do now. Say, for example, you did something dumb and regrettable after drinking too much at a college party. Rather than beating yourself up over the mistake that happened years ago, learn from it. Faced with the same choice now, you’d likely do things differently. Accept that you’re a different, more mature person now and you don’t need to continue feeling the same way you felt then. If you have trouble reaching this point on your own, consider talking to a therapist who can help you work through past issues and give you advice on how to let go of the past and be happy.

Realize You Did the Best You Could at the Time

Another reason you may be blaming yourself for the past is that you feel like it’s your fault you didn’t do things differently. This may be blaming yourself for things that were beyond your control. It’s easy to look back and say “I should have done this or I could have said that.” Realizing that the way you behaved in the past was shaped by your life experiences at that time can be helpful. Give yourself some credit, and some leeway to make mistakes and grow up. It’s not always a graceful process. You probably did the best you could with the experiences and resources you had available then, which may have been limited. You may be evaluating yourself based on what you know now, without taking into account that you didn’t know as much back then. Don’t beat yourself up over things you didn’t have the experience to handle.

Turn Your Biggest Regrets into a Positive To-Do List

Dwelling on regrets from your past — about things that were done to you or things that you did — can trap you in a cycle of anxiety and anger or other negative emotions. But you can transform these negatives into positive motivation by using your regrets as learning opportunities. Make a list of some things you wish would have turned out differently. Use this to generate a to-do list of goals you’d like to accomplish. For example:

  • If you wished you’d treated your past significant other better, make it a conscious priority with your next (or current) one.
  • If you lost your cool when your best friend told you about something you didn’t agree with, make a point of listening first, rather than talking, in all conversations.
  • If one bar tends to turn into four and a night of poor decisions, make a commitment to leave at a certain time. “One more drink” is almost always a bad idea.

Learn how to let go of the past and move forward. What a privilege to use your past experiences — good and bad — to make your future a more positive experience for you and those around you.

Accept That Your Life’s Experiences Have Made You Who You Are Today

To forgive past wrongs, it can help to accept that good or bad, your past experiences have made you who you are today. These experience have shaped both your positive and negative character traits. You can’t change the past, but you can move forward based on who you are now. By knowing how to let go of the past and live in the present,  you’ll learn to accept your present self and use your past learning experiences to continue improving yourself from this point on.

Cut Yourself Some Slack: Mistakes Happen

A perfectionist attitude can contribute to low self-confidence and anger toward ourselves and others. If we expect ourselves to be perfect, we can never live up to our own standards and will have a hard time forgiving ourselves. It will also make it hard for us to accept and forgive others. Reminding yourself occasionally that no one is perfect can help you cut yourself some slack and relieve some anxiety.

Forgiving yourself isn’t an easy feat. It requires acceptance you did your best with the information you had at the time. It involves breaking the cycle of negative thoughts and learn how to forgive and let go. It means you have to cut yourself some slack and let go of the pain you don’t need to carry around. It’s hard work but is what you must do to grow.

If you need additional help to work through these issues, consider scheduling an appointment with a licensed therapist. ThriveTalk is a teletherapy service that lets you schedule appointments from any location using your phone or a webcam. To schedule an appointment or for more information, contact us here.

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What Do You Do After Your Partner Cheats?

 

In the last 24 hours, you’ve gone from crying your eyes out in the closet to throwing your shoes across the room to blasting music to blaming yourself. It’s devastating to learn your partner has cheated on you, and those first few days can feel like you’re living a real-life nightmare.

After the tears and the shoes and the music have passed, you have some tough decisions to make: Should you stay? Should you try couples counseling? Is the relationship worth saving? Can you ever trust them again?

What to Do After Partner Cheats

Decide: Do You Want to Stay?

Quick, what’s your gut reaction to that question? Do you want to fight for your love, or do you know — deep down, even if it’s difficult to admit — that it’s over? Opinions will run to extremes on this one, but don’t let anyone else make this decision for you. This is the time to do some soul-searching. Use these questions to gauge how you feel:

  • Is your love strong? Is your partner normally a loving and supportive ally who lifts you up?
  • Could this be a one-time mistake, an aberration? Or is this another link in the chain of disappointments you’ve been experiencing with your partner?
  • Do they, in general, treat you well and make you feel valued?
  • Are you constantly unhappy with their behavior, this episode of cheating aside?
  • Is fear of being alone the main thing keeping you in the relationship?
  • Is the quality of your life better with your partner in it?

If you choose to discuss this with friends or family, understand that they will be rightfully protective of you. It is possible to repair a relationship after a partner has cheated, but first, you need to decide if it’s worth repairing. Dealing with a cheating spouse or partner can be hard, but you and only you can decide if you should stay.

If Yes, Communicate & Identify

If you want to stay in the relationship and try to re-establish trust, you’ll need to do two things:

1. Communicate openly about the infidelity.

2. Identify why it happened.

Even if it doesn’t feel good (and it won’t), don’t attempt to ignore this important part of the healing process and just “move on.” Both of you need to be willing to talk this through.

It’s OK, at this stage, to tell your partner how hurt and angry you are (what’s not OK: lashing out violently, destroying property and trashing your partner on social media). They need to know how their behavior affected you.

You are (understandably) angry at first. When you can explore these kinds of things without blowing up, ask your partner some pointed questions to learn more about the infidelity. For example:

  • Why did they cheat?
  • Why did they decide to tell you (if they indeed did)?
  • If they got caught: Would they have continued to cheat, if they hadn’t been discovered?
  • Are they just sorry they got caught?
  • How will things be different?

Ultimately, the goal is to learn why they cheated. Once you get to the heart of the matter, you’ll both better understand how to fix what went wrong. You’ll both need to be patient with the other during the “fix it” stage — yes, there’s been betrayal and hurt feelings, but if they truly seem apologetic and intent on changing and getting through it, you’ll have to work on forgiving them, too.

Consider Couples Counseling

If the pain of the infidelity is too great or too messy to navigate just the two of you, consider going to couples counseling. A licensed therapist is trained to guide this type of discussion in healthy, productive ways and will teach you couples counseling exercises or couples therapy techniques. Oftentimes, an objective third party is exactly who you need to help you communicate and process your feelings. People do heal from infidelity, and it is possible to forgive, grow and deepen your bond.

If you decide to seek couples counseling, your therapist will likely start the process by facilitating an honest evaluation of the relationship. Together, you are trying to establish:

  • What are the relationship’s strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Are there any major issues, such as codependency or any kind of abuse?
  • Why does each of you think the relationship should continue?

Cheating is often a sign of deeper troubles in the relationship, so your therapist is trying to get to the heart of the matter. Now, in the course of couples counseling, it’s not uncommon for the therapist to unearth individual issues that you and your partner should work on outside of couples counseling. You, for example, may be struggling with long-standing codependency issues that are independent of your partner; your partner may have, for example, anger issues or feelings of inadequacy that predate you as well. In this case, your therapist will recommend separate and simultaneous individual therapy.

If after couples counseling, the relationship still doesn’t work out — at least you know you took this step. Many times a couple will enter couples therapy and, through the process, decide to end the relationship. A therapist can be helpful in this case, too. They can help you both cope with the heartache of the breakup.

Know When to Say When

Sometimes, the damage is just too great, or a relationship has too many other problems to survive. Don’t live for months or years angry and victimized — and don’t make your partner pay for their mistake that long, either. If you can’t forgive and move on, it is best to end the relationship and part ways. Again, a licensed counselor can help you work through the pain of a breakup and onto a healthy and happy life.

After a partner cheats, it may seem like nothing will ever be OK again. It is possible to heal and forgive, but it takes work. If you’ve decided to stay in the relationship, commit to discovering why it happened and how to move forward.

Reach out to a professional counselor for help. ThriveTalk provides teletherapy services for busy people who need help getting through tough times, such as when a partner cheats. Couples counseling may be what you need to survive this period and emerge even stronger.

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How to Cope With a Divorce

 

Everyone’s heard the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic. And like most things in life, the impact of this statistic is negligible until it happens to you.

Divorce is devastating, even under the best of circumstances. The sadness, stress, and emotions can be overwhelming at times. If you’re going through a painful divorce and it feels like you’re just not coping well, take heart — you can heal. We have some tips on how to cope with divorce as a man or a woman that should make today just a little bit better than yesterday.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

orange scissors cutting a marriage certificate refers to coping with divorce

To put it bluntly: It’s normal to be a mess. Divorce isn’t just the dissolution of a union; it’s saying goodbye to our dream of attaining our very own happily ever after. That feels terrible.

In fact, divorce requires a grieving process similar to what we go through when a loved one dies. It’s completely appropriate to feel a wide range of emotions — anger, sadness, fear, frustration, confusion — and there doesn’t need to be any rhyme or reason as to why you feel what at any given time.

The negative feelings will lessen over time, but in the meantime, give yourself permission to feel. Divorce is messy, but sometimes acknowledging that fact inherently makes it just a tiny bit easier. 

Go Easy on Yourself

You will likely be less productive than you normally are. That’s OK. You probably won’t feel like doing much of anything; that’s OK too. You don’t need to be superwoman. Treat yourself as you would treat your own sick best friend.

Granted, you can’t drop out of life completely, but it’s perfectly acceptable for your productivity and social life to take a downward turn while you go through a divorce. As long as you don’t stay there for months and months, this is to be expected.

Seek Support

This tip is vital: Lean on others for support. Talk, cry, express yourself — just don’t keep it bottled up inside. Allow your friends and family to be there for you. 

Sometimes we need more support than an understanding friend can give us. In these cases:

  • Look into divorce support groups. There are Facebook groups and other online forums as well as in-person meetups and church-based groups that will help you on how to cope with separation from your husband or wife. Start with a simple Google search to see what’s available and sounds good to you.
  • Seek professional counseling. If the pain of your divorce is too much or if you are having difficulty carrying out normal day-to-day activities, it may be time to seek divorce counseling. You could do therapy to help improve your life.

Care for Your Body and Mind

Stress can cause myriad health problems, including headaches, insomnia, exhaustion, overeating/weight gain, digestive problems and reduced immune function. In addition, stress can cause a host of ill emotional effects, including anxiety, depression, inability to focus, lack of motivation, irritability, and anger. No fun at all.

It’s essential you take care of your mind, body, and spirit during this time. Doing so will minimize the effects of stress, helping you to recover and move on. Now more than ever is the time to:

  • Eat well
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep a regular sleeping schedule
  • Spend time in nature
  • Nurture your friendships
  • Make time to relax and do things you enjoy
  • Tend to your spirit through prayer/meditation (or whatever that means to you)

Avoid Power Struggles & Arguments with Your Ex

woman angry with her partner is on a restaurant and is dealing with divorce

One of the most important life lessons that will help you get through this difficult time is this: You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself and how you react to them.

Stop trying to force your ex to see it your way, be sorry for something, apologize, etc. Don’t get involved in power struggles that are only about being “right.” Refuse to participate in any manipulative or malevolent behavior. In the end, you’ll be happier for it.

Reconnect with Your Prenuptial Hobbies

Did you use to love to restore old furniture? Brew your own beer? Hike? Blog? Now is the time to resurrect any interests and activities you may have let slip when you became part of a couple. Or, explore new ones.

Set Time Aside for Positive Thinking

This is a simple yet powerful tool for overcoming any challenge, especially when going through a divorce. Most of us know that positive thinking is — well, positive —  but we don’t make a conscious, concerted effort to do it.

Change that. Block off just five minutes a day and devote them to manifesting good things in your life. Write them down in an “I deserve a joyful life” journal. Learn about the power of positive affirmations, and then do them.

Divorce is one of the toughest things a person can go through but you will get through it and be OK. Take time to grieve the loss, stick close to your loved ones and be good to yourself.

Life After Divorce

Coping with divorce can be difficult, but in every challenge, there is always a positive aspect to it. Amidst a painful separation, positive things can happen after going through a divorce, it is a matter of how you can identify and embrace these great things.

Great Things That Can Happen After Dealing With Divorce

1. It gives you a second chance at life and more opportunity to do the things you always wanted to do.
2. You can find more peace as opposed to when you were a part of a married couple.
3. It is much easier for you to handle challenging situations and you become fearless.
4. You feel more independent and confident in yourself.
5. You will discover who your real friends are who have supported you through the tough time.
6. You will be happier compared to when you were still married, you will no longer fight change and life starts to get easier.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional counselor if you feel overwhelmed or that you can’t go on. ThriveTalk provides online therapy and can help you get through this difficult time. You’re worth it!