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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: Equality without comparison

Step-Parent Like A Pro: Equality Without Comparison

So far in our step-parenting blog series we have looked at the very important role that step-parents play with their step-children, and specific ways you could add to your step-parenting skillset.

This week we are going to look at how to establish equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

Some blended households have kids from both parents living under the same roof. (And God bless you in all your endeavors.) When that is the case, the main pain points often surround discipline and expectations being unequal between step-siblings. But, as is often the case, what works in a traditional nuclear family can still provide a good framework for blended families.

The traditional advice of parenting siblings is to set discipline and expectations for each kid individually, based on their own personality and strengths. This is true for blended families as well.

What doesn’t need to be case by case is the set of rules for how you treat each other.

There doesn’t need to be inequality in attitude expectations, language that can be used, signs of respect, etc. These should be seen as household rules and everyone at the house should follow them.

Handing down consequences.

  • Unless you’ve been around for a *very* long time (5 years or more maybe?) or you entered the scene when the child is very young (before Kindergarten, I’d say), then I feel strongly that discipline and consequences should either be handed down jointly or by the birth parent, when possible. It’s not always possible because perhaps you provide a lot more face-to-face parental contact than the birth parent (like they work off-shore, for example) but when possible, let the birth parent take the hit and handle the conflict.
  • You can join in and support the birth parent when appropriate (silent presence is okay, too), but you’re the support person here, not the one dropping the hammer. The step relationship by its very nature can sometimes be strained, so there is no sense in complicating it further, unless specifically requested by your spouse or you’ve been around a long enough time or came around when they child was very young to not be considered fully in the “step” role.
  • When it’s not possible for the birth parent to handle discipline, a pro-tip is to use “we” based, joining language to remind/gently correct: “Let’s get our chores done before mom gets home so she won’t have to ask us about them!” Whenever possible, join your step-child, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Not out of equality necessarily, but out of humility, comradery and openness.
  • Back the birth parent’s play. Even if you disagree. Even if you would have handled it differently with your kids. Don’t disagree in front of the kids about discipline. Kids will suss out this type of division so quickly and launch a full-scale ninja attack to play you guys against each other!
  • Support. Listen. Empower. This is the fun stuff. Be a cheer leader and not a task master.

Structuring Your Household

  • Steps or not, if the adults are at the top of the food chain at home, and the adults are seen loving each other and modeling a healthy relationship, the whole house runs better.
  • God’s design still works, whether biological parents or step. If the mom & dad figures of the house feel solid, the household feels solid. So don’t feel bad about prioritizing each other. And still yet, use creative solutions that keep anyone from feeling like attention and quality time are zero-sum games.
  • All kids want to feel close, to feel securely attached, like the have a solid place to belong. You can do your part to act as the salve to that wound and it just may be the most impactful role of your life.

No blog can be exhaustive of all the challenges faced by step-parents. If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding your household, feel free to reach out to me. We can set up a time to come up with a game plan together! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

Step-Parent Like a Pro

Step-parent Like a Pro!

We all know this story. It’s a tale as old as time!

Boy meets girl. They fall in love. All is right in the world. Then thy abruptly and awkwardly figure out how to parent the children they bring with them from previous relationships.

Ok, ok…it may not be the stuff of Disney movies, but this is real life, people!

Most people enter into the realm of step-parent with confidence and excitement. The assumption is that your love for your significant other will bleed over to their kids without much intention or effort. People think, “I already have kids, so I know how to do this! I’ll just do the same I’m already doing.” Or, “I love kids so this will be no sweat…fun even!” Yet in reality, nothing will test the limits of your maturity, patience and resolve quite like learning to be a step-parent.

Conventional wisdom encourages us to prepare to have a healthy marriage and not just focus your efforts on having an awesome wedding. In the same vein, wise step-parents will focus on how to enter into this role like a pro and not just assume that the honeymoon phase will encompass the whole family.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a handful of blogs on the topic of step-parenting and eventually on coparenting. Step-parenting is definitely not a “one size fits all” topic. What you’ll find in these posts are items to consider and make your own in the context of your family.

The two biggest factors that change your particular approach to step-parenting seem to be: 1) How old were your bonus children when you entered the scene? 2) Is there another biological parent in the mix? We will unpack how each factor requires a specific approach, and discuss a variety of considerations that will help you step-parent like a pro!

Tiny Pay, Huge Value

Although there are always special characteristics, needs and nuances to consider, I believe families are meant to look and operate like families, whether members be related by blood, marriage or adoption. While over the next few posts we will unpack concepts specific to step-families, these practical out-workings will simply be variations on this central concept.

I am a big fan of step-parents! It’s such a tough and often thankless job! I see so clearly a deep power and potency in the role of step-parent: to offer corrective relational experiences, to offer a fresh narrative to address past wounds or mis-beliefs about self or one’s place in the world, and to offer a less defensive, more objective, adult voice in the life of a child/teen.

It’s very, very difficult to get a child (or adult, for that matter) whose parents are divorced to articulate how that rift has affected them emotionally. This is in part because they are often taught to minimize the impact by well-intentioned family members, it’s normalized by society, or they don’t want to make their parents feel guilty. Another big reason why kids/adults don’t typically articulate the loss of the parental unit as “mom + dad together = family” (by means of break-up, never actually “together” or divorce) is because it may have happened when the child was pre-verbal. So in a sense, the grief is stuck in the brain in a place where it’s hard for language to get to. And it can be expressed in anxiety, anger, depression, or other attachment-based manifestations.

Now, I realize that a lot of people may not like to talk or think about that. But it is necessary to acknowledge this point because it highlights the importance of step-parenting skillfully and coparenting graciously.

These are fairly complex ideas to address concisely, since there are a number of presentations and points to consider.  So if you have specific questions or concerns, I’d love to sit down with you and come up with a game plan, whether from a parenting stand-point or a family therapy model.

Check back next week as we dive further in to the topic. You can even sign-up on the top right margin of this blog page to get the next blog emailed to you so you can make sure to not miss what’s next!

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit.

Whether it’s while we are scheduling our initial visit or during our intake session, I frequently get asked this question: How will I know if you’re the right counselor for me?

That is a FANTASTIC Question. The simple fact that you’re even asking that question is a good sign that you’re ready to do great therapeutic work!

RAPPORT

In an ideal world, you would strike gold on your first therapy appointment and have awesome rapport from “hello.” In reality, it may end up being more like test driving cars before deciding which make/model you actually want to end up with for the therapeutic journey.

Beginning therapy can be nerve-racking enough already. The last thing you need is to commit to counseling with someone who makes you feel like the therapeutic equivalent of buying a compact car when what you really need is enough leg room to stretch out.

So how can you tell that you’re on the right path with picking a therapist?

There are two questions you’ll want to keep in mind during your first session:

  1. Does your therapist give you the impression that she knows what she is talking about?
  2. Can you see yourself being comfortable sharing the ins and outs of your life with them?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” it may be an indicator that you haven’t quite found the right fit, therapeutically speaking. And that’s totally ok. There is someone for everyone. It’s not really even personal. Stay loyal to your goals and instincts and keep looking.

I truly want you to be with someone who feels “right” to you, and if something in your gut is telling you that it’s not me, I’d be more than happy to give you some great referrals who may better fit your needs and goals!

If the answer to both of the above questions is “yes,” it’s a good sign that you’re on the right path in finding a good therapeutic fit. You probably won’t be leaving the first session feeling like you’re 100% sure about your therapist. But you should have a good sense that you could see it working out well.

Other Considerations:

  • You shouldn’t leave your first session feeling judged, preached to, or confused.
  • You should have a good idea of how the therapy process works and an estimation of how long the process usually takes for goals similar to yours.
  • You should feel like your questions were answered and that you’ve found your way into the office of a person who isn’t shocked by what you’re saying.
  • You want to feel like you’re sitting with someone who has been down this road before.
  • Within a few sessions, you should understand what therapeutic framework your therapist uses and how your goals may be met through that framework.
  • Before too long, you’ll start to get a feel for the therapist’s personality and communication style.

For me, I like to be very collaborative in the therapeutic process. I want to hear how you respond to things. You’re a full partner in this process.

I like to be goal-directed in therapy. We will have a clear understanding of what you’d like to address in your past or change about your current life before we really begin the work of therapy. I’m going to want to know where exactly you want to go before we put the car in drive.

I tend to be very plain speaking and cut to the chase. And I shoot for discussing really difficult topics in really accessible ways.

With most people, I’m not exceedingly maternal. And no one has ever accused me of coddling.

Not every therapist is like me, and not every client wants my style. Stylistic preferences may be dealbreakers for some clients. And that’s 100% okay. Stay true to your gut and preferences!

Therapy Models:

Other people may care less about personality/style, but instead are looking for a specific therapeutic framework. Within a few sessions, you ought to be able to understand what therapeutic framework your therapist primarily uses and how it will fit with your goals.

For individual work, I typically use EMDR and CBT. For couples work, I tend to use more of an EFT approach (though I am less model driven with couple work than individual work). To me, the lack of a strong therapeutic framework can lead to an endless string of putting out fires in your personal life, instead of addressing root causes. I find these therapeutic models to be the best fit both for my strengths as a therapist and for the types of clients that I see in my practice.

The bottom line is: the therapy process should work for YOU. You owe it to yourself to find the right person for you, your personality and your needs. Trust your gut and your instincts. You know what “yes” feels like to you, and a good therapist will always support that, even if it means you end up in someone else’s office.

Check out this article for additional FAQ’s about my practice and therapy in general. If you have any specific questions for me regarding therapy or my practice, please contact me here! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

Navigating Friendship

Navigating Friendship

“I’ve never had a best friend.”

This is a sentence that I hear quite often, from both men and women clients, strangers and people I know. It’s as if there’s a universal law that each person is supposed to have a “best friend” or even group of best friends. Who came up with that? And sometimes we think our spouse has to function as our best friend…but that’s a whole other blogpost!

It definitely seems like people think: if you don’t have a best friend, there’s something wrong with you, you’re missing out, and you’re doomed to loneliness and never quite fitting in.

I just think that’s a flat out lie.

Here are some truths to hold onto to combat that lie:

  • A LOT (and I mean a LOT) of people feel this way. If everybody got together who didn’t feel like they fit into a friend group, you’d have a really awesome friend group!
  • It’s a lot of pressure for yourself and your friends, to expect that you’ll have one “person.” Pro-tip: friendships usually don’t flourish under a lot of internal pressure. Open-handed is always the best approach to friendships.
  • It is a disservice to your friends when you thinking of them as not being your “ride or die” people. This is a comparison trap. It sounds like this, “Sure…I am friends with Caitlyn, but she’s better friends with Bianca than she is with me.” You’re not going to be everyone’s BFF but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy friendship with a person just because they have other/closer friends. It’s not a race. It’s not a game. It’s not a popularity contest. Adult friendship is just about people supporting one another and having a blast while doing it.
  • Friendships change according to seasons of life, and that’s ok. Your friendships will look different from high school to college. From college to early career. If you have young kids. If you’re taking care of sick parents. If you’ve moved. Friendships will evolve and look different for different logistical reasons, but in those times of change, focus on the meaningfulness of connection and not the amount of time spent together.
  • People probably feel closer to you than you realize. For whatever reason, I find that people discount potential friends and just see them as peripheral acquaintances. Who in your life are you overlooking? Who could you engage with more? Invest in more? Open up to more?
  • Revive the long forgotten. Have you ever lost touch with someone? Someone you don’t work with anymore? Someone you used to go to church with? Someone you used to be close to in school? People generally really enjoy reviving a friendship that has just grown a little cold on accident or by circumstance. Don’t be too cool to reach out to someone who you used to really enjoy! You’re probably Facebook friends with them already, so just reengage (through some means of non-social media based contact).

You probably have more friends than you give yourself credit for.

I am a proponent of The Smorgasbord Approach. This viewpoint instantly opens up some freedom and grace. Ruth’s Chris is great. But you’re going to get the same basic meal there every time you go. We’ve got to move away from the mentality that every meal needs to be Ruth’s Chris, and if it’s not, there’s something wrong with it. Quality of food notwithstanding (sorry, Golden Corral), enjoying variety in options and portion sizes and cuisines is a great thing! Don’t expect to get everything you want or “need” socially from one person. Enjoy different things from different people and all your bases will get covered! And you’ll have a blast doing it! If you insist on comparing the steak from Golden Corral to Ruth’s Chris and you’ll be routinely disappointed. It’s all about shifting what you’re looking for.

How to be a better friend:

There’s a scripture verse in Romans that states “Be devoted to one another in love and outdo one another in showing honor,” and another in Philippians 2 that says “consider other’s needs more important than your own.”  It sounds like friendship mattered to the early church so it should be important to us. Let’s figure out some ways to up our friendship game!

What can you bring to the table? Friendship isn’t all about trading things, but I do think it’s true that you’ve got to be a good friend to have good friends. There’s also this whole idea of equity in friendship that I find interesting. You don’t want to be the person who always needs favors or is always handing out favors. Keeping the “score” even keeps the relationship flowing smoothly. (I’m currently listening to The Science of Likability on Audible where they talk about this concept and I’m learning a lot!)

Be a good and patient listener. Get off of your phone. Don’t interrupt. Seek to really understand. Don’t bring everything back to you or be a one-upper when you hear stories.

Positivity goes a long way. Everyone likes encouragement. Say the words face to face, don’t just like their posts on social media!

Actively assume the best. This is a real skill that can be learned which will pay big dividends in your friendships. When you actively spin a situation in a way that minimizes the occasional forgetfulness, unintentional disrespect, awkwardness, etc. of a person, you are adding a type of friendship WD-30. So brush up on your skills of being gracious and generous with peoples motives and intentions.

Be interested. If you ask specific, brief follow-up questions about something a person mentioned previously, you’re already setting yourself up as a great person to have around. Being interested keeps things interesting. So remember conversations and follow-up.

Initiate. If you want to be busy with friends, initiate time together and activities.

Alright…there you have it! Get to it!

And as always, I actually love helping others navigate their way to more meaningful connections with God, self and others. If connection with others is something you really want to see change in your life, feel free to contact me to set up a counseling session!

Be the Best He’ll Ever Have

Be The Best He’ll Ever Have

Have you ever had one of those thoughts that just blew your mind but then you realize it’s just a really basic idea? Maybe it’s just me? And people wrongly assume I’m smarter than I am? (Bless my heart.)

The other day while putting up some of my husband’s laundry (brb, I actually just remembered that I needed to put the wash in the dryer), I had this thought: I’m going to be Chad’s ONLY WIFE. Short of him finally killing me for doing one of my very few annoying traits like occasionally snoring in a cute kind of way, or asking him to switch cars with me because I’ve been driving around on E for 3 days, he’s probably never going to have another wife. He will never have another opportunity to be more loved than my love for him.

This felt shocking to me. I’m his best bet at unconditional, empowering, doting love. Not only would I never WANT another woman to love him better than I do (unless, of course, in the event of my untimely death), he’s never going to even get the chance at experiencing anything better than me!

Like I said…it was one of those simple ideas that really blew my mind.

I felt really called to action at that moment.

My husband, Chad, and I had several years of close friendship before the curtain was lifted and we realized we loved each other. And that’s always such a great place to return to when the “home fires” get a little cold, as they occasionally do in any long-term relationship. Because I have this underpinning of true friendship love for him, I typically can’t help but just want good for him. This really helps motivate my marital love. I am his best shot at experiencing life-giving, fulfilling, out-of-this-world love. And I really want him to know and live that kind of love! So this means that sometimes I gotta step my game up!

What about you? Do you ever need to re-evaluate your wife skills and step your game up?

Here are a couple questions to ponder:

  1. When’s the last time you did something nice for him…just because?
  2. Do you show enthusiasm for his victories and efforts…big and small?
  3. Is there anything you used to do to show him you loved him that you haven’t done in a while?
  4. Have you gotten into any bad communication habits like bombarding him with to-do’s when he walks in the door or spouting off complaints, criticisms, or general negativity?
  5. Is there anything you’ve done lately (intentionally or unintentionally) that he may have taken as disrespect?
  6. How’s your ratio between encouragement and complaint?
  7. Do you like the culture you help co-create in your home?
  8. When’s the last time you prayed for God to let you thrill for your husband’s touch?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one around here who needs to step her game up! But if not…

If you ever want to talk about stepping up your “wife-game” or anything else, feel free to contact me here for an appointment time. Also, to those of you reading this who are thinking: Allison…not only have the “home fires run cold…it’s like a freezer in here!” Let’s talk. There may yet be hope. There almost always is!

Counseling sessions available in Walker and two locations in Baton Rouge.

(Photo credit for this cute picture of Mr. Schoonmaker: The September Company.)

Transitioning from Work to Home: How to set your night up for success.

Transitioning from Work to Home: How to set your night up for success.

The Question

How do you transition from work to home each day? Do you have a particular routine you use to help you go from employer/employee to spouse mode?

The Problem

Like we discussed last post, the transition moment is either seamless or it’s very rocky. If it’s rocky, it might be because you’re having trouble “shaking off” work as you enter into your home environment. The transition from work to home is rough for a lot of people. Maybe your job is very stressful, very labor intensive or very people driven. If you live alone, you may not think much about the transition from work to home, but I’d suggest that it’s chiefly important for you to not blur the line between the two, and consider your home life entirely separate from your work life. If you have a spouse and/or family, walking in to a house full of people who need things from you can feel pretty overwhelming after a tough day at work! It’s so important that everyone in the house is getting their needs met. It’s possible. It just takes some honest reflection and a strategy.

The Plan

If you struggle with decompressing after a stressful work day, here are a few ideas:

  1. Pick a transition point. On your commute home, give yourself time to process the work day mentally, but at a certain landmark of your choosing, switch trains of thought and start thinking about home. Anything. Stuff on the agenda for the night. Things you like about your spouse and kids. Whatever. Just transition at a planned point so that you can be prepared when you walk in the door.
  2. Write down important things from work. Something you need to do tomorrow? Particularly frustrating conversation with your boss? Write it down. And leave it in your vehicle. You’ll get it out of your system just enough to be able to turn your attention to other things.
  3. Ask for/Give space. Sometimes I distract our toddler so my husband can sneak in without being noticed and take a quick power nap in our bed. (When he comes out later: Surprise! Daddy’s home already!) This way, he’s a little more refreshed and ready to engage. Some people like to take a shower to help them transition from work mode to home mode. Others like to watch the news in relative peace and quiet. Whatever you need, figure it out and make it known.
    • This is particularly important if you’re especially introverted or extroverted. You have needs for either connection or an intentional alone time. These are both legit needs and you shouldn’t minimize them. This need has to be met in order for you to be able to give what your family needs. But, you shouldn’t take all night for this need to be met. Do what you’ve gotta do to decompress the necessary amount, but then be available and presentphysically and emotionally.

In conclusion, consider what you need to really be “off the clock.”

If you live alone…don’t blur the line between “work” and “home” just because you can and no one will complain about it. You’ll burn out eventually and plus, it’s just no fun. You owe it to yourself to maintain/create an identity separate from your work, and this transition point of your day goes a long way to support that part of who you are.

If you’re married, don’t let the transition home moment each day pass you by without considering how you’re approaching it and how you can redeem it for better connection and relational satisfaction! It’s an easy moment to enter into and make a big impact on your relationship. You can do this!

As always, I’d love to set up a time to discuss this issue or anything else for which you’d like to receive counseling support. To learn more about the counseling process, check out this article.

Offices in Livingston Parish and EBR.

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.