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What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

During the school year, my caseload includes a steady stream of teenage girls. (On average, I see around 20 clients a week: 1/3 individual adults, 1/3 couples and 1/3 teenage girls.) I didn’t used to like working with this population but in recent years, they’ve become some of my favorite clients!

Adolescent girls are a mystery to most everyone (including themselves) and I’m not saying I’m the teen girl whisperer, but for a variety of reasons, we often seem to be a great therapeutic match.

If you have an adolescent living under your roof, you really should consider getting her established with a therapist. You may be one of the few households that never experiences a “crisis of teen girl proportions,” but if/when it does, it’s great to already have a relationship with a therapist so you don’t have to start at ground zero in the therapy process. Perhaps even more importantly, a lot of situations that don’t necessarily meet the criteria for “crisis” arise weekly in the teenage world, and it’s beneficial to have another adult to be able to connect with your teen in the midst of these tumultuous years.

This is 2018. Counseling stigmas are a thing of the past. Gone are the days when only “troubled teens” needed therapy. “Great kids” benefit from therapy, too! Even well-adjusted, high-preforming, friendly teens could benefit from therapeutic support. (You’d be surprised at the level of stress being a “great kid” can bring on an adolescent!) The bottom line is: you’re never going to regret providing your teenager with another healthy adult point of connection.

Topics that I regularly address in counseling with my teenage clients:

  • Social Anxiety
  • School Stress/Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Communication Skills (communicating with peers and/or parents)
  • Managing a Bipolar diagnosis
  • Coping with ADHD and learning disabilities
  • Gender Identity Issues
  • Bullying
  • Sexuality topics…many and varied!
  • Suicidal thoughts and cutting
  • Strained family relationships
  • Sexual trauma
  • Stress associated with divorce and blended family issues

Here are a few other reasons you may have not considered as to why it’s good to get your teen in therapy…particularly with yours truly!

  1. I don’t know your family. I don’t have any loyalties to anyone. I offer a fresh pair of eyes to question long-term patterns of communication, secrets, expectations, etc. And your teen can speak to me freely about her family without fear of offending me or hurting my feelings, or concern that her disdain for MawMaw’s cookies will ever make its way around the family rumor mill. (Also…bring me MawMaw’s cookies! I’ll eat them!)
  2. I’m relatable. The window may be closing, but currently I still seem to pass for what the kids refer to as “cool.” Even yesterday, I had a new high-school aged client guess that I am 27 years old. (Which is to say, I now have a new favorite client.) It’s a great gift to your adolescent to provide a healthy adult voice (that still seems relevant) to help them navigate tough choices, discuss school stress and friendship drama, and begin to figure out who they want to be in the future.
  3. I don’t have an agenda. What should your student major in at college? I don’t care. Should your budding adult attend senior skip day? I don’t care. Should your 7th grader go to the dance with Person A or Person B? I DON’T CARE! 🙂
    What I DO care very much about is that your teenager is developing the skills necessary to connect with the part of herself that is her own compass, and make decisions that feel solid and good to her, all the way through her being. It’s not that I’m disinterested in what’s going on. I am simultaneously highly interested in my clients’ lives while maintaining a lack of worry or responsibility for their decisions. This is what (most) parents are generally unable to do, but it’s a stance that is really helpful for teenagers.
    Since I don’t have an agenda, you’d really be surprised with what all I’ll hear from your teenager. Giving your teen a relationship with another healthy adult will never be a bad thing. They may not open up to you at this point, but it’s definitely preferable if they can open up to someone. And, what is more, a person who is bound by confidentiality and a code of ethics and principles which will guide responses in a healthy and careful way.
  4. I’ve heard it all before. You can’t shock me. Many have tried. Few have succeeded. I won’t give examples here, because there are two distinct types of people reading this post: people who don’t need examples and people who don’t need their minds blown. 🙂 But suffice it to say, I’ve been counseling for over a decade and it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when it comes to shocking disclosures, but there’s always a bigger picture that needs to be addressed carefully. I often help families navigate what just seems and feels like a big deal and what is actually a big deal needing extra attention.

I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’d love to set up a time after school to discuss how counseling could benefit a teenager that you love! Contact me here to schedule an appointment!

FOOTNOTES/REFERRALS:
If you are reading this and you have a teenage boy under your roof, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wow…Allison sounds perfect for my teenage son! Does she see teenage boys or only girls?”
To you I say: Maybe. I see adult males all the time. But there’s something about teenage male sexuality that I find to be best addressed with a male professional counselor. My FAVORITE referral for male teenagers (and lots of others…he’s a great therapist): Joel Gilbert. Joel is an excellent therapist, very easily relatable and very wise.

For the record, I do see adult males for individual work. What a difference a frontal lobe makes!

If you’re reading this and you wonder if I see kids younger than 13, the answer is, “no way!” For kids, I gladly refer to an awesome therapist named Christine Varnado. She does amazing work and kids are obsessed with her!

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Ask most any step-parent and they’ll tell you, “parenting my step-kids is harder than parenting my own kids.” What’s the reason for that? Well, in my opinion there are several variations of that answer but it all seems to come back to one thing: Fear.

Fear about judgement or criticism from the other birth parent. Fear about damaging the relationship with your step-child or with your significant other. Basically, fear about doing something wrong or rocking the boat in some way. (This idea of fear comes up a LOT with coparenting as well, which we will eventually get to in this series.)

Combining our awareness of how being a step-parent challenges us emotionally with the idea that households operate the best when they look as much like gracious families as possible, we will be able to unpack some concepts of how to handle step-parenting in a way that promotes a culture of grace and love in the house.

Last time, we examined the role of step-parent and why it’s such an awesome and unique role. This week, we’ll look at how to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent. How do you not just survive the job but knock it out of the park? We’ll look at hot to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent and I’ll share some easy tips you can start today.

Considerations of Age

If you are a step-parent to older kids (I’ll call this 9th grade and above), your lane is to basically be the auxiliary adult. You just need to back up your spouse, and basically add peace, joy and stability to the household. You need to be WD-40! The fun uncle. If you have a different perspective on rules, routines, structure, you should absolutely express that…in private with your significant other. Your biggest opportunity for blessing is to encourage, support, champion, and provide positive stability. This is not the opportunity to strut your stuff and completely re-invent the rules.

If you’re a step-parent to younger kids, you will be a more integral part of developing the child’s story arc. Step-parents of younger kids intrinsically feel this weight. It shouldn’t be surprising if the child takes their (pre-verbal) angst out on the step-parent, as the symbol of all that is new and different in the family unit. A wise step-parent will understand that this is not personal, and use this as an opportunity to connect rather than recoil.

Considerations in Training

As a birth parent, it may be difficult to not get territorial, possessive or defensive about your kids and your parenting decisions. Feelings can easily get hurt in this context. Counseling support can absolutely be helpful if you’re in this predicament. The solution to this is often structural, and a trained eye can reshape and rebalance the household dynamic like only a non-emotionally invested outsider can.

As a step-parent, it may be confusing as to what your defined role is in terms of promoting a healthy family life and encouraging the kids to be his/her best “self” possible. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be the type of partner who would never make your significant other feel like they have to make a lose/lose choice of partner vs. kids.
    • Cut down on the fear of there not being “enough” to go around.
    • There is plenty of room for both/and solutions in step-parenting. There is enough time in the day. There is enough love to go around. Open wide your heart and engage in your creative problem solving skills. Setting up the family for success in this way is a MAJOR win, and you can excel in this area by going out of your way to be the furthest thing from petty, needy and territorial. Be generous. Be patient. Just be cool! If you’re open handed, it’ll come back to you ten-fold.
  • Stay in your lane.
    • Clarity in the bounds of your role reduces fear of overstepping.
    • Don’t over-estimate your skill set in bringing peace and civility to a situation. Whatever the current dynamic of the family is when you arrive on scene, there are a lot of factors and causes for it. You’re not the chaos whisperer. You’re not Mary Poppins. You are not bringing healing to decades-long conflicts with your banana nut muffins!
    • Know your role. Observe. Keep your thoughts to yourself unless you’re asked. You’re here to make things easier in real, tangible ways.
  • You didn’t start the fire, but you can pick up a fire extinguisher.
    • You didn’t create these kids. You can’t re-create these kids. Put simply: Your step-kids are not your kinfolk. They have different aptitudes and attributes than your kinfolk have. You don’t need to walk around with the pressure that you have something to prove to the world through them.
    • Get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and what really motivates them.
    • Work within the framework that has already been established before you arrived on scene.
    • Surely, you can teach helpful lessons and model positive character attributes. But you’re not going to remake your step-kids in your own image just because they’re at your house 50% of the time. Accept this and have reasonable expectations that everyone can agree to.
    • They are who they are. They will be who they will be. You can expect things from them like a respectful attitude, chores, honesty, etc. But you can’t expect straight A’s in math just because you were on math team.

Well…there you go! Step-parenting is the easiest job on the planet, eh? 😉 I sincerely hope you have found a tool or two to add to your toolbox of step-parenting skills! It’s a tricky role but you’ve got what it takes. I believe in you!

If you’d like to set up a time and work together to come up with a more specific plan for your household, just let me know! I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

Next we’ll look at achieving equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

I don’t know about you, but I have several situations, both in my personal life and my professional life, that are simply in the midst of hard times. They are situations that are not “good” yet. Healing hasn’t fully occurred (or even begun in some situations). The pain is still ongoing. Confusion is still abundant. People are still in the thick of it.

Part of my own work is to learn to be kind to my hurt places. It’s so tempting to want to rush to the resolution; to find the silver lining; to white knuckle ourselves into being on the other side of the pain.

The problem with that is, it’s not very honoring to our wounds when we suppress the negative emotions just to feel better. And what is more, I think we kid ourselves if we think our suppression of these emotions won’t crop up in some other unhealthy or maladaptive way in our life. Suppression always has a hidden cost.

Sometimes though, things are so bad that it’s not even possible to minimize the hurt.

For times like these, we need to sit in our hurt and honor the brokenness that is there. It takes a lot of courage and it can be very scary to feel that. But it’s the only way to true wholeness. While we don’t need to let emotions be our master, we have to listen to them for guidance. I’m not even sure that there are “negative” emotions as much as they are all just created equally, and we need to feel all of them in order to be whole. There are some emotions that are easier to feel that others, but all emotions were created by God, so they are all important for us to acknowledge and experience. We need to be ok with our humanity and part of that is learning how to accept being in process; not rushing past the “negative” to find the resolution.

I can’t get these two bible verses out of my mind. Part A (in bold below) of the verse is just as true and scriptural as Part B. While the whole verse represents the entirety of the truth that the author is trying to convey, it’s helpful to just pause before rushing to the end.

Psalm 34:19

A righteous man may have many troubles (but the Lord delivers him from them all).

Psalm 71:20

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter (you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up).

If you don’t take a pause to feel the weight of Part A, Part B just feels cheap, powerless and almost like a taunt to our pain. Part A can bring up more questions than answers and that makes it uncomfortable. But there is goodness in feeling what we perceive to be negative emotions. And taking the time to truly feel them is the pathway to healing.

A song called New Wine by Hillsong Worship feels like it’s ministering to my deep places today. I’m not even sure exactly how it dovetails, but it goes together in my soul with what I’m feeling. Maybe it’ll feel that way for you, too.

Make me a vessel.

Make me an offering.

Make me whatever you want me to be.

I came here with nothing, but all you have given me.

Jesus, bring new wine out of me.

If you are wrestling with your hurt places today, know I am there with you! And if you’d ever like to set up a time to come process what you’re going through, I can be contacted here.

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

Valentines Day: How to Nail It.

Dear Men,

I have previously written about Valentines Day to your wives and girlfriends in an attempt to make things easier on you. I encouraged your wives to not be so specific about their expectations for VDay (and other holidays) and I have written to them to point out how they could indeed make this romantic holiday special for you, as well. After all, romance should not be one-sided. I wrote both of these to help you out, cut you some slack, and generally endear your significant others to you. You’re welcome. 🙂

Now, I want to turn my attention directly to you and offer you some specific help with this single purpose:
HOW YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY NAIL VALENTINES DAY THIS YEAR!

You’re probably thinking…Allison…it’s not even February 13th yet…why are we even talking about this? (A few of you are actually a step behind thinking…wait…when is Valentines Day this year?! It’s April 1st. Same as last year.)

Let’s be real; in all likelihood, your wife or long-time girlfriend sent you this post.

I know the drill. I will be brief. I will be direct. If you do what I say, I’ll set you up for *ahem* “success.”

Sure. You could skirt by another year with Circle K chocolate and a single rose while ordering Papa Johns from the comfort of your couch, fingers crossed that you’ve done enough for things to end in your favor. But WHAT IF you stepped your game up just a bit, and enjoyed the benefit of being the guy who gets bragged about on February 15.

Steps to NAILING Valentines Day:

  1. Start today. Listen, you don’t actually have to do anything today. You just need to casually mention, “I’ve been thinking about what we could do to celebrate Valentines Day together this year…” …and then don’t say anything else. Trust me. Less is more. All you have to do is plant the seed of expectation. Just the simple fact that it’s already crossed your mind will be enough to blow her mind. You are already winning! Congratulations.
  2. Make a reservation. To do ANYTHING. It doesn’t have to be dinner. It could be that you buy a movie ticket in advance. Schedule her an appointment to get her nails done. Sure…a reservation for dinner works, too. It doesn’t matter what it is really. Just schedule ANYTHING in advance. In this simple move you are silently conquering the “you just through this together on your way home from work” argument. It’s really the forethought and intentionality that matters. (And all the women said, “AMEN!”)
  3. Buy or do something that SHE enjoyed when you first met. This could be as simple as making a playlist of old songs she used to love, taking her to an old hangout, watching an old movie you saw together. It doesn’t have to be expensive for fancy. (But it’s fine if it is.) Just have it ready for the big day. It’s really just the thoughtfulness that gets you the points. My husband would say, “nostalgia is a real panty dropper.” So…you’re welcome for that. He’s a poet.
  4. Remove distractions. Whenever you plan to celebrate Valentines Day (the weekend before or after is totally a fine option, in my opinion, just as long as she knows in advance), do yourself a favor and remove distractions so your wife won’t get in her head. Take the kids to Grandma’s house. Hire a cleaning lady to make the house look nice. Think of whatever it that she seems to consider of urgent importance, and make sure that’s taken care of, so at the end of your celebration, she will be able to remain present with you, instead of hopping into all the busyness of household duties.

Ok…as simple as most of this is, it’s all that it will really take for her to think you’re 10 feet tall this Valentines Day. You can get fancy “above and beyond” all you want. But these elements will set you up for success: expectation, thoughtfulness, nostalgia. Have fun…make it your own. Rather than let Valentines Day give you a sense of dread or that you’ve failed…change it up just a bit and enjoy the fruit of your labor!

YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

Oh, and while I have you, men, let me tell you this: I have a very special, very specific “talk” that I give wives when it comes to libido and the importance of sex. I’m like Liam Neeson. I have a special set of skills, therapeutically speaking. If this is a pep talk, training, or treatment plan that you’d like your wife to have, send her my way! Here are some of my thoughts on the topic but I’d be glad to discuss a specific plan in my counseling office in Walker or Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

Wrestling with our Christian faith in the midst of chronic pain.

Most of my clients wouldn’t know this but I struggle with chronic pain several days of the month. I won’t get into the cause on this post but it’s been going on for about two years now. I wouldn’t classify it as “continuous” pain but it is regular and fairly predictable.

Perhaps you know this struggle as well.

I do everything I can to keep it from putting a damper on my personal life as well as my professional life but I am not always victorious. At its worst, I have to miss things: cancel sessions, get someone to watch our son if my husband is at work, miss church or social events, etc. Don’t worry… if you see me, I’m feeling fine enough. When it’s at its worst, I’m in bed.

We have tried several things to help reduce the pain level, most of which have not helped much. If this is beginning to sound depressing, it definitely is sometimes! But it is really important to me that I fight a good fight and not let my pain be the dominant characteristic in my life. My husband Chad and I have both had to do our own work of trying to reconcile my chronic pain with our faith in a healing God. And, just as importantly, our goal is not to just survive with pain, but to wrangle up some joy on the daily!

Maybe you know the struggle of chronic pain as well. But maybe you are more familiar with emotional pain of chronic anxiety, depression or loneliness? Maybe you (like Chad) have to watch someone you love struggle and there’s not much you can do about it? For someone with a Christian faith, this struggle can be made all the more complicated when you factor in knowledge of God’s ability to heal. Those waters can tend to get very murky, very quickly. And I think that’s ok. It’s just about what we do with that tension.

Whatever “brand” of struggle yours may be, here are some places I’ve landed in trying to grapple with my pain and my faith.

  1. Chronic pain is a fact about me (currently). It does not get to define my life. I have chronic pain. I also am married. I am a female. I am caucasian. I think I’m pretty funny. I like to cook. I don’t like cleaning my floors. Each of those facts mean something about me and set some perimeters in my life but they don’t give a full snap-shot of who I am. Losing sight of this central truth makes me chronic-pain “centric.” And there are so many better things to be at the center of my life than chronic-pain.
  2. My pain level is not the measure of my day. Have you ever thought, “I felt good today so it was a good day”? We have to fight against this because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. But the truth is that there are so many other choices to be the gauge of how each day is measured: obedience, provision, laughter, faithfulness, puppy snuggles, a very funny tv show that distracts you for a while. We have to be diligent to not be so reductionistic to say, “my pain was really low so it was a good day.” If we let it be as simple as “low pain = good day; high pain = bad day” then our eyes are fixed on ourselves alone. As Christians, we know there’s a better choice for us to fix our eyes on.
  3. How God answers your prayers for healing does not say anything about you. Or at least it doesn’t say what you think it says. I firmly believe that chronic pain is more of a result of the Fall than it is a result human choices. Sure…maybe your hard labor caused some degenerative disc issues. But still..that is rooted in the fall because hard work is not sinful, but deterioration of our bodies is the result of the Fall. Your issue may actually be the result of your choices (lifestyle issues, positive or negative…doesn’t matter really), but the toll it has taken on your body is largely a result of the Fall. What I mean by that is that when sin entered the world through Adam, destruction of our bodies came, too (and this has physical, emotional, mental implications). Before then, there was no deterioration. This is a MUCH bigger issue than your sin or your choices and this issue manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. I throw disease and illness in this same category (and flooding and hurricanes, if anybody is wondering). The world is broken by sin, so bad things happen. And they don’t really mean anything about us. So the same is true for our rescue from the physical manifestations of the Fall. If it didn’t mean anything about us that we received this illness, then it doesn’t mean anything about us if the healing comes. It would be awesome if healing comes. But it isn’t personal if it doesn’t. And it’s not personal if it does. It wouldn’t be about your good deeds or track record if you get healed; how much potential you have or how much God likes you.
    It just means something about God. It’s God’s choice how he wants your healing story to go. And he alone gets to make that call of when your healing is manifested. It’s not personal. It’s just the Fall.

I don’t know the rules about who gets ailments or who gets healed. Honestly, it looks pretty haphazard to me. There is no magic formula that I’ve ever been able to pick out. But I’ll tell you this: at our house, we ask for healing anyway.

What’s true is that our struggles aren’t meant to define us or take the central seat in our life. And God’s (apparent) response to our struggles isn’t a good indicator of his awareness of our pain.

I love this poem by Walt Whitman which ends with this thoughtful line:

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I, for one, don’t want my “verse” to be, “Pain overtook my life.” But rather, “I found joy and meaning and purpose in the midst of the lot that I was given.”

If you or someone you love struggles with a chronic issue, you can contact me here to set up a time to come in and talk about it.

Counseling offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo credit goes to Brigitte Tohm.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

What to do if the past year feels too present.

A year has passed since the Baton Rouge area was devastated by flooding. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago and in others it seems like last week. Now, with many in the area having connections to loved ones in Houston and watching that area go through what we are all familiar with, emotions are running high for some of us. And today…even though Pat Shingleton says we will only have 3-6 inches of rain between now and Saturday, some of us are still a little on edge. I know I am!

It’s all a little too familiar. A little too close to home. Area men are loading up their boats and heading over. We are gathering supplies. We are doling out mold remediation advice. This is not something we want to be pros at. And yet we are.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed (or both) today, you are not alone. If your coping strategies have given out on you (again), you are not the only one. Recently the Advocate posted this article about the ongoing mental health crisis in Louisiana as a result of the flood. So many are still actively needing support. Whatever was hard in your life before the flood got even harder after. Whatever happened this year that would have been hard anyway felt about 100x harder just because of the ongoing stress of the flood. I get it. I’ve lived it, too.

I evacuated from a block on St. Charles in New Orleans for Katrina and relocated to Baton Rouge (sorry for being part of the traffic problem in 2005!). Our home in Denham had 4.5 feet of water in it last year. My parents home in Walker flooded. And my brother’s house flooded last night in Houston. I know we’re not handing out prizes…but I get it, y’all.

The rules for staying stable remain in effect.

  • Deal with your own stuff first, then move on to “other” care.
    • This goes for physical issues as well as emotional.
    • If you’re not in a solid enough place, helping with others can be risky. Airplane rules apply here: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others put on theirs, or else no one will have what they need to keep going.
    • Engage in self-care. This doesn’t just mean getting a pedicure, although I’m sure no one will complain about that! Find some quiet space for yourself. Turn your phone off. Unplug. Do what fills your soul.
    • Mind your self-medicating choices (drinking, shopping, over-eating, binge watching TV, etc. etc.). These could get really dysfunctional, really quickly.
  • Be patient with those around you.
    • Tensions are still high (especially when it’s raining…rain is a trigger).
    • People are doing their best. We need the most connection and support when we are behave the worst.
    • Lead with empathy. Make molehills out of mountains instead of vice versa.
  • Stay connected with those who care about you.
    • People who are involved in the same mess you are and those on the outside. Sometimes it’s just good to talk about the Real Housewives of Dallas.
    • This includes God. Even when you’re mad and questioning why this keeps happening…he can take it.
    • Don’t isolate, even if you want to. If you already have, start back in with the person who you think will be happiest to see you and fix you supper.
  • Get outside support if necessary.
    • If you’re thinking, “wow…that was a tough year…I wonder if I should talk about it with someone?” Or, “I just feel like I should be doing better by now.” Or, “I do better for a while but every time it rains hard I get anxious.” Or something else along those lines…YES. Come in.
    • If you feel forgotten, worn out, over extended, pushed aside, in over your head…come in. We can’t make the flood go away, but we an redistribute some of the weight. There are no trophies for agonizingly slowly pulling yourself up by your water-logged boot straps.
    • The best thing I personally did this year to help me process our family’s flood experience was that I received some therapy called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s really perfect for PTSD type issues, which this flood totally was for so many of us. I went from getting that sense of dread washing over me every time I thought about what we had endured to the automatic thought of “wow…I’ve really overcome some tough stuff!” and feeling proud of myself when I think about our flood story.
    • Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about EMDR. I completed my basic training in EMDR and my clients have been loving the process. It is very effective on a myriad of issues and I’ll write more about it on a later (dryer) date. But if you research it a bit and feel like it could be helpful to you, give me a call. I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker and I’d be glad to talk with you!

I am praying for our community today and for what’s happening in Houston. Being a human is hard! We are fragile creatures and we need each other so much. May God be merciful.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Reunited And It Feels So Good: 5 Tips for Making Coming Home the Best Moment of the Day

The Question

How do you and your mate greet each other after returning from work?

Is it like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks movie? Or more like a series of grunts and side glances? Somewhere in between? What if this moment of your day had the power to set a tone of positive connection for the rest of your evening…if only you knew how to tap into its potential.

The Problem

The transition/reunion moment following the work day is one of those linchpin moments where things will either go one of two ways: 1) you’ll feel very connected, safe, and welcomed, or 2) you’ll be frustrated and feel isolated, with your guard up.

This transition/reunion moment sets the tone for the rest of the evening. And it’s easily missed by couples because it seems fairly inconsequential. How you handle this opportunity every day reveals quite a lot, and for whatever reason, it seems to be a missed opportunity for a lot of couples.

One reason why the transition time is rough is due to job stress that you have trouble “shaking off” just because you’re in your home environment. We will discuss this part next post! (Be on the lookout for Part 2 and feel free to sign up to receive posts sent straight to your inbox.)

The other reason why the transition moment might be rocky for you is because things are tense at home. Maybe you feel like a rockstar at work but you tend to feel like a failure or constant disappointment at home. If you are generally having trouble connecting well with our spouse, this moment is where the negative cycle starts each night. Additionally, communication styles that are effective (and even help you excel) at your job do NOT typically work at home. If you talk to your spouse like you’re his/her manager…just go ahead and call me now. 😉

Whatever the reason this transition/reunion isn’t working to your advantage, there are a couple of things that you can do to redeem this moment.

Every day, you have this opportunity to build up intimacy or build up defenses. Why not do all you can to not let that moment pass idly by you?!

You may be thinking, “Allison…I have no idea what you’re talking about. We love “coming home time!” Then congrats…you’re doing it right. For everyone else, when you walk in the door, if you’re met with grunts, demands, criticisms, or even not acknowledged at all…we’ve got some work to do!

The good news is that this little moment of the day is the perfect, routine opportunity to really insert some positive connection in your relationship. Most people are blind to the importance of this time, so it’s not a “high stakes” risk for improvement. It’s a great place to start!

The Plan

Just like fake smiles are shown to eventually make you feel a little happier, even a somewhat forced, intentional greeting leads to more warmth and connection between the two of you.

Here are some great (and even silly) options for making coming home a special event that helps your defenses go down and increases your relational satisfaction.

This is definitely an area where I have to practice what I preach. At our house, we have the challenge (as do a lot of you, particularly shift workers) where every week day goes a little differently. Sometimes I’m home when my husband gets home and we are both staying put for the night. Sometimes we have about 5 minutes together before I leave to go see clients. Others, he’ll come home after work and do all the household stuff alone, and I don’t see him until almost 9pm. So some days, he is greeting me, and others I am greeting him. So most of these we swap.

  1. Physical contact. Stop what you’re doing when he/she walks in. Stand up. Put down the spatula. Smile. And give a big hug and/or a kiss. This is either second nature to people when their spouse/partner returns home or it’s a TOTAL stretch and seems so forced and foreign. Stretch yourself here! A good hug really brings down the defenses. It sends the message: you’re home….you made it…it’s safe here. Pro-tip: Use BOTH ARMS. 20 seconds is actually ideal, based on lots of research. (Sounds long…just go with it; you might end up loving it!) Count in your head if you need to! And if you can possibly manage, give a nice kiss, too. It does NOT MATTER if you feel like it’s forced. It’s like faking a smile. It always leads to a better mood. Tricking your brain by doing something positive with your body.
    • There is actually a lot of interesting research on hugging. Check out this article on the physiological and emotional benefits. You’ll be surprised!
  2. Cheering. Now, I admit that this is kind of silly. But at our house, we chant: Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! with fists pumping in the air. Most often we try to do this in the driveway, for maximum impact on our returning conquering hero. 🙂 The point here is not necessarily cheering, but feel free to make it a special event anyway you can think of!
  3. Play time.
    • Hiding. Sometimes we play hide and go seek, and start right before Daddy walks in the door. If he doesn’t see us when he walks in the door…that’s his cue. It’s play time. Play = joy and connection. Just go for it!
    • Dance party. Actually…Brené Brown has a whole theory on how healthy families with low shame regularly engage in dancing together. Don’t roll your eyes at me! Save it for Brené.
  4. Consider your partner’s love language.
    • Some days…if the stars align…I’ll have dinner ready. It’s just a way of taking good care of my family that I occasionally pull off successfully. When I get home late from work, sometimes I’ll have planned dinner for my husband to finish off after he gets home, or sometimes he has made his own thing, or it’s leftover city, baby. But if he’s home for a while and I come home late, I can always guarantee that he’s thought of what I can eat when I get home. It’s the best and makes me feel taken care of and supported!
    • What makes your spouse feel loved and supported? You should try to do that when he/she gets home.
  5. Ask questions. Not too many. Not too fast. But here are some choices:
    • Rate it: How was your day on a 1-10?
    • High/low: what was the best/worst part of your day? Then here’s the pro-tip: EMPATHIZE when you respond. “Wow! That sounds awesome!” “Oh man…I hate that you have to deal with that.”
    • Do you need anything from me tonight?
    • What’s something we can do together as a family this weekend/next time we’re both off?
    • If kids- Did anything happen with the kids today I need to know about?
    • Whatever else comes to mind….the sky’s the limit! But not too many…not too fast.

If you want to discus this topic or any other related to individual, marital, or family counseling, just contact me here! Appointments available in Baton Rouge, LA and Walker, LA.

Flying Solo to Couples Counseling: Can it help?

Question of the Day: Does the old hip-hop classic by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock get it right when it comes to working on a relationship? (I’ll just wait right here while you enjoy that link. You’re welcome.)

Does it indeed take two to make things go right? Is it necessary for both people in a relationship to attend counseling in order for things to improve? Or is it possible to see positive change in the relationship with only one person seeking help? Can a relationship or marriage ever improve if only one person is “working on it” aka, attending counseling?

Let’s unpack this topic a bit to see if Rob Base gets it right or wrong when it comes to improving relationships.

Systems Theory

A basic premise of family or systemic therapy is this concept of systems theory. Imagine a crib mobile. It has multiple tiers with multiple objects hanging off each tier. Each piece of the mobile responds to movement together and they all balance each other. If you touch one piece, every piece responds with movement as if it had also been touched.

Close relationships react in the same way to movement or change. If one person in the relationship introduces some change (either positive or negative) all members of the relationship or family feel the effects and respond accordingly, even if unknowingly. Change brings about shifts in the relationship, even if we aren’t able to put our finger on what is different. Therefore, it stands to reason that any one person striving to bring about positive change in a relationship will cause positive effects in the relational system.

To what extent a single member of a relationship can bring about positive change to the system largely depends on the type of change is desired. We can’t solve every relational issue with just one of you attending counseling. We won’t learn “better ways to control your spouse” and effectively manipulate your way to a happier marriage. We can, however, focus on your role in the situations you’re not liking. We can assess what you’re bringing to the table that’s not working, and make adjustments to how you’re communicating your preferences, expectations, thoughts and emotions.

It takes 2 to make a thing go WRONG.

Both people in a relationship contribute to the negative relational patterns, argument pitfalls, or negative communication cycles that tend to decrease relational satisfaction.

You can’t argue with a lamp post, so to speak. So if one of you changes the way you argue, the argument cycle has changed tremendously. Responding differently to the same situation will bring about a different result.

The more objectivity you bring to the relationship, the more objectivity your relationship has. The same is true with self-control or any positive attribute you’re seeking in your marriage/partnership. Your relationship will never be worse off with one of you engaging in these traits. Bringing more of these traits to the table are gifts that you give to yourself, to your partner and to the relationship. These are gifts that don’t backfire, only bless.

When it comes to relationship counseling, work is work. If you work on your relationship, even if it’s alone, your marriage will reap the benefits.

It takes two to make a communication habitually derail. It takes one to make an improvement in connection.

Rob Bass did get it right on this point, though:

It takes 2 to make it out of sight.

Plenty of the finer points of a relationship can’t necessarily be addressed without both partners working toward vulnerability and transparency. So, maybe Rob Bass and DJ EZ Rock got it halfway right…maybe it DOES take two to make it “out of sight.” But when it comes to the communication style that is making your relationship unduly negative, one person committing to positive change is better than no one being committed to positive change.

The bottom line:

An individual working on a relationship in counseling is not going to solve all of the issues of the relationship. It all depends on your goals and circumstances. If you’re in a relationship in which both parties are committed to working things out, just having a difficult season, individual counseling for relational improvement can do quite a lot of good.

Low Sex Drive and How to Fix It

A Sexy Series: Part Three
When You Don’t Desire Sex.

So far we took a quick look at the types of sexual issues people want to work through in counseling as well as tips to set your relationship up for a win/win sexually.

Today I want to look at what some might call low libido, lack of sexual desire or low sex drive. When you’re not wanting to have sex, here are some of the usual suspects…

Reasons why we SAY we say “no” to sex.

  1. We are tired.
  2. We are stressed.
  3. We have a headache.
  4. We ate too much Chinese food. 🙂

It’s absolutely ok to say “no” from time to time for whatever reason you so choose. The problem comes when you turn down perfectly good sex almost as a default, without considering your motivation for doing so or the impact of the choice on your relationship.

Reasons why we REALLY say “no” to sex.

  1. Emotional hang-ups.
    • Depression.
      • One of the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression is loss of interest or pleasure. Maybe your disinterest in sex has more to do with your mental health than anything else? Depression is a road that doesn’t have to be walked alone, and dealing with this issue may truly open you up to a wealth of possibilities that will positively effect both you and your partner.
    • Unprocessed negative experiences in your past might still be present.
      • This may be a sexual trauma or just feelings of guilt for one reason or another. Either way, it is something that can be addressed in counseling and there’s just no reason why your past needs to cast a dark shadow on what could be a dynamic and healthy physical relationship with your spouse.
  2. Relational hang-ups.
    • Power struggle. “That’s all he wants me for.” “He isn’t doing what I need so why should I do what he needs?” If you’re in at standoff in terms of desiring to meet each other’s needs, one things for sure: everybody loses. Change the tone of your relationship and focus on meeting the other’s needs. Something magical happens. Everyone’s needs are met with enthusiasm…without anyone having to demand.
    • Not really “feeling it” towards your spouse. Maybe your love has gone a little cold and you don’t thrill at your spouse’s touch like you used to. This solution can typically be found in one of two places: your prayer life or your self-talk. Both of those generally require some specific coaching and I’d love to talk with you more about this in person.
  3. Physical hang-ups.
    • Technique issues.
      • If you didn’t know by now…sex is not like you see on TV. Sorry. Whether it’s a communication issue or a mechanics/technique issue, there are a lot of really great resources available to help you get past what is holding you back.
    • You’re not happy with your body.
      • Body image issues can definitely do a number on libido. Ultimately, it all boils down to two choices: come up with a plan to get happy about what you’re working with or come up with a plan to do something about it. I can definitely help you out with one of these and have some great resources to help you figure out the other. For starters, these friends of mine.
    • Hormonal issues.
      • Pregnancy, postpartum, pre-menopausal, post-menopausal…all these reasons and more can cause a big shift in libido. Talk to your doctor. There may be an easier solution than you think.
    • Medication side-effect.
      • Everyone is different and it’s hard to trace back which medication might be effecting your sex drive. Your doctor will be very helpful towards this end. For most issues, there are so many options of medications available, it may be as simple as just taking a different birth control pill. For real, ask your doctor. Could be a super easy fix.
    • Pain/Discomfort during sex.
      • There are a few physical conditions (both male and female) which can result in painful intercourse. Each situation is so vastly different, I’m not able to expound upon this point here. But, many can find relief through a team approach between a physician and a therapist.
  4. Spiritual hang ups.
    • Trouble associating sexuality as a pure gift from heaven.
      • For the purposes of this blog, I won’t unpack this much. But suffice it to say: God is pro-sex and if that weirds you out, let’s talk.
  5. Kid sleep habits.
    • Whether you have to fall asleep with your kids to get them to stay in bed, or they start off or end up sleeping in your bed, this can really mess with your sex life. The resolution of this issue isn’t a quick fix, but we can figure out the steps it would take to alleviate this problem. Whether it’s an attachment issue or just a bad habit, we can find solutions that result in happier and healthier bedtime dynamics.
    • Also, and this is not a joke but is a little funny to me…you’d be surprised at how many clients I’ve had that cite “dogs in the bed” as a mood killer! Seriously, Rufus doesn’t need to know everything that goes on in the house. 😉
  6. Boundary Issues.
    • Pornography/masturbation.
      • You and your partner both deserve to be clear on what the boundaries are in your sex life. “Solutions” you’ve come up with over the years may be causing more problems than you’re aware of. I have some pretty clear and easy boundaries that I suggest for most couples, and they leave room for a lot of awesomeness to be had, while elevating the union to its proper, amazingly sacred place.
    • Not being totally closed off to other suitors.
      • What you may see as an innocent flirtation or even being open to the approach of other people is a vote for “the grass is greener” mentality. If you didn’t know already, the grass is greener where you water it. When you water it, the more you’ll love the luscious lawn you have.

The big picture: sex was designed to be awesome. If it’s anything less for you and your partner, don’t take it lying down. Let’s talk.

How To Negotiate Sex

A Sexy Series: Part Two
How to Negotiate Sex

Many people feel like when it comes to the question of “sex?” the answers are “yes” and “no.” But the truth is that there are lots of options along the continuum and a savvy sex partner will be aware of those choices and know how to negotiate with them.

Part One of this series took a quick overview of topics clients frequently discuss in counseling regarding sex. In today’s post, we will look at a few suggestions for negotiating sex that can help increase satisfaction with that component of your relationship. After all, if the sexual aspect of your relationship is on point, it’s a good indication that the other aspects of your life together are rocking and rolling, too.

Rules for Negotiating Sex

  1. Never give a “no” without providing an alternative solution.
    • This seems easy but it goes a long way for reducing the sting of being turned down. “I’m not really feeling up for it right now but how about before work in the morning?” No one likes to be turned down, but if the answer is essentially, “yes but not right now,” then it keeps hurt feelings or resentments at bay.
  2. One says “when,” one says “what.”
    • This idea came from a book I like to recommend frequently to clients. What I like about this suggestion is that it gives everyone a voice in the process. Example: Person A says, “I’d like to connect physically after we get done watching this show.” Person B gets to say, “Awesome! I could be up for _______________.”
  3. Initiate sometimes.
    • If this is an issue for you, and there is a big discrepancy of how often you each initiate, my advice would be to just pick a ratio that is better than you’re doing now, and stick with it. If he initiates three times in a row, you initiate once. Or something to that end. No rules here…just looking for improvement.
    • If you’re a woman, don’t initiate all the time…most men find that emasculating. If you currently initiate all of the time, hold back on that and let him initiate. I know…I know. You’re thinking, “if I quit initiating, we will NEVER have sex.” Just trust me here…it may take longer than you want, but it’ll be a positive move for the power structure of your relationship. If this continues to be an issue, let’s talk about it.
    • If you NEVER initiate, I realize that it’ll feel like a BIG step to do so. But…generally speaking, this is the type of risk with immediate positive results!
  4. Broaden the smorgasbord of options.
    • I believe that there are a LOT of options along the continuum of healthy and holy physical intimacy choices between spouses. We do our relationships a disservice to limit physical intimacy to one or two options. Think in terms of amount of involvement. I could get a lot more specific, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll just leave it here. This approach is especially helpful in instances like pregnancy or as we age and begin dealing with physical limitations and hormonal changes.

I hope these negotiating tips can serve to spark in you some ideas on how you can answer the “sex?” question with more than just two choices. Next time you feel a “no” bubbling up within you, consider one of these options so that you can move from a “lose/lose” to a “lose/win” with your mate. You’ll both be glad you did!

As always, if you’d like to discuss this topic or any other with me in counseling in Walker or Baton Rouge, this is how to get ahold of me.

Check back soon! Next post we will look at reasons for low sex drive. Feel free to “subscribe” to posts if you don’t want to miss a blog from your favorite therapist. 😉