Couples Counseling Articles

Dr. Anne Hancock

Communication: Time for a tune-up?

Everything we do, say, and think makes a difference and carries weight in our relationship.

It’s all communication.

When we understand this fundamental concept, we can start to see that it’s time for a tune up.

It’s also a great time to understand the potential we hold for positive change in our relationship.

At first, you might brush-off the idea and think it’s absurd.

You might think it’s your partner’s responsibility to initiate change.

Or, maybe you think taking the “first step” is a sign of weakness.

Acknowledging the kind of power I’m talking about might even feel downright terrifying.

The very idea that “every single thought, word and action somehow impacts my relationship and the world around me” can be overwhelming.

It’s too much…and…you might think,

What if I have negative thoughts about my partner AND myself?

What about those?


What if you were able to catch those negative thoughts, become aware of them, not chase them or get involved with them?

What if you were able to turn things around and safely acknowledge those thoughts out loud?

What if you could create enough space to plant seeds for new, positive thoughts to flourish?

Imagine thinking, saying and doing things that contribute positively to your relationship…every single day…just enough…to be a catalyst for change and a force for good?

What would that look like?

How would that feel?

Rational Or Emotional?

Maybe it’s because there’s no way to go through life without experiencing hurtful and confusing situations…we humans tend to categorize ourselves as EITHER rational and composed OR emotional and erratic.

The truth is more nuanced than that and, although it’s easy to miss, each of us is a seamless blend of both reason AND emotion.

Emotions play a pivotal role in shaping every aspect of our identity. They influence our preferences for:

  • mating,
  • friendships,
  • food,
  • work and
  • enjoyment.

Emotions fuel our aspirations, hopes and dreams.

Then, at lightening speed, our rational brain processes the emotions and prompts us to navigate through endless decision trees based on constant input:

  • Yes or No?
  • Juice or Water?
  • Chicken or Fish?
  • ESPN or Netflix?
  • Work or Play?

Within our relationships, emotions function like algorithms, setting in motion a cycle that can lift us up or take us down.

That’s why it’s important to cultivate a relationship with our emotions…especially the challenging ones.

It’s helpful to understand them…work with them.

At times, emotions get entangled and lock us into self defeating patterns.

They can surge to the surface and erupt in ways we are not proud of.

In everyday life, the temptation to avoid our painful emotions can take us over.

We might resort to dumping them onto someone else or pushing them away… hoping they’ll quiet down or disappear entirely.

They don’t. They go underground and linger just beneath the surface.

We cannot escape emotions. They are an intrinsic part of who we are.

It’s difficult…but infinitely more rewarding…to make friends with emotions as part of our daily journey.

We can repress them or learn to metabolize them.

We can conceal them or craft them.

When we step back, observe and and see our emotions clearly, we can empower ourselves by following them. Yes, literally…following them.

We can wrap language around them.

If we understand them, we can skillfully use our emotions, harness their potential with non-violent language and share them with people we love.

Then, if we want to, we can set down the heavy burden…

and let them go.

Experiencing Connection

‘Connection’ is a baffling concept for most of us and a word we use loosely these days.

It’s meaning is derived from Attachment Theory (developed by British psychiatrist John Bowlby in the last century). Attachment Theory explores the profound impact of early caregiver-child relationships on a person’s emotional development.

  • Essentially, secure attachment to a responsive and nurturing caregiver fosters a sense of safety and trust, leading to healthy emotional regulation and social connections later in life.
  • Insecure attachment may lead to difficulties in forming close relationships and managing emotions throughout ones lifespan.

Irrespective of our childhood experiences, human connection is something we all long for…deeply.

Please don’t confuse connection with a particular relationship, contract, family member or friendship.

Connection’s essence is self-arising’ and cannot be willed or manufactured into existence.

It’s either there…or it’s not. And when it’s there…you know it.

When it’s disrupted or threatened, emotional chaos reigns.

Mostly, we try to avoid the chaos. You know, that internal feeling of implosion and rage.

We problem solve, bat it away, suck it up or deny the chaotic feelings altogether. And, we know intuitively, that we can’t do all that…and remain physically and emotionally healthy.

Better to learn how to keep our precious human connections safe and secure.

We can do that by creating the conditions in which connection will flourish naturally and unfold in its own time.

Three simple tasks are the most direct path to connect and bring us closer to our intimate partner.

  • We can reflect on how we show up in our relationship.
  • We can refine our approach toward our partner and
  • We can step into the essence of relating to another human being by sharing; without demands or expectations.

When we do these three things consistently, we begin to realize the essence of connection is as it is.

It cannot be changed. It can only be nurtured.

When connection is broken perhaps irretrievably, we may have some difficult decisions to make.

The control we have around connection…is in creating the conditions in which we can experience more of this wonderful thing in our daily lives.

  • Am I taking time to slow down, pause and allow myself to focus on the important stuff?
  • Even if it’s just for 30 seconds….
  • Do I notice when I take my partner for granted and wander off into demands rather than requests?
  • Do I show up with expectations rather than appreciation?

Sure, we’re all in a hurry. We get caught up in the daily tasks of living, careers and calendars.

But unless we’re willing to nurture our environment and the people in it, it’s very difficult to cultivate the essence of connection.

Every now and then it will peek through the busyness of life and give us a moment to savor but then it’s gone and we may not know how to get it back.

Better to recognize the enduring longing for connection inside and the instability of a demanding world outside…and take nothing for granted.

Use a simple framework over time to refine your approach. Then connect with a calm, steady, open heart.

Intimacy = Into Me See

Blame seems awfully common these days.

It’s largely encouraged, easy to do and rarely reflected upon.

Blame reflects judgement tinged with anger. And we react instinctively.

Especially when we hear people (particularly our partner) speak their thoughts… which can land on us feeling like blame.

Without understanding the person’s intention or the motivation behind their words, we know very little about what’s going on.

We fall into the trap of reacting to what we believe to be true rather than what’s real.

Things rarely turn out well and we think:

  • He’s unreasonable.
  • She’s relentless..
  • I’m unlovable..
  • S/He’s a bully.

And the list goes on….

Another thing we might do is go on the offensive…. instantly compiling a list of all the situations we imagine connected to this moment.

Then we point them out one by one…

  • Do you remember when…?
  • Here’s what you’re probably thinking.
  • This is what you really mean.
  • You don’t feel that way at all.
  • What you should feel is…
  • And, if you loved me you would…

Inevitably, when one person starts spouting off, the other person throws up a barrier and can no longer hear what’s being said.

We’ve created a terrible mess!

The only way out is to listen with a sense of openness, interest, and curiosity.

Because in truth, we don’t know what exists in another person’s heart or what’s happening in their head. We think we do. But we don’t.

Intimacy and communication live between us. Literally.

Both people need to be fully present to what’s happening.

That’s what makes communication so challenging.

We can start by taking things slowly…moment by moment…with a dash of patience, self reflection and curiosity….keeping this translation in mind:

Intimacy = Into Me See

Announcing Our New Location in Metro Columbia, South Carolina

About a year ago, one of our most experienced therapists expressed a desire to move to Lexington, SC to be closer to family. That’s when we started a new conversation. Before long, it was clear….we would open an office and embark on an exciting new adventure, spearheaded by Sheila Mull.

The decision was easy because of Sheila’s experience and dedication in providing exceptional care and support to our Charlotte clients. You see, like me, Sheila is an EFT couples therapist and our focus is human connection.

At Wellness, our entire practice is known for its compassionate, client-centered approach using the EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) model. EFT is systemic, humanistic and non-pathologizing…which means no-blame / no-shame. It’s also evidence-based and provides the highest success rate on the planet for couples.

I believe Sheila’s presence will bring enormous value to Lexington families and the community at large. It’s a growing part of metropolitan Columbia with lots of dual career couples and busy families. Together, Sheila and our entire Wellness team set out to create a new space in Lexington that provides a warm and inviting atmosphere for couples…a haven for those seeking more love and connection in their lives.

Hope, Happiness & Connection

In a world of collective uncertainty, most of us are starting to see the cracks in our relationships, our culture and ourselves.

We feel pressure yet we still hope our closest relationship ends in happily-ever-after…with some everyday happiness sprinkled in along the way.

And, while most of us aren’t expecting perfection or happiness 100% of the time, usually, somewhere along life’s journey, things get challenging and we start accepting painful, relationship chaos with a shrug.

“That’s just the way it is.” You might say.

Suck it up and move on.”

We’re busy people, after all”…and so we do…move on…sometimes for years.

We humans are brilliant at compartmentalizing emotions, pressing the reset button and ‘moving on’, so to speak.

Culturally, we may even see it as effective…a sign of strength…or confidence.

The underlying message is… maybe if I stand back and do nothing, things will get better.

Hope has a strong pull on us.

And while hope is important, we rarely see it as a less than optimal relationship strategy.

Hope can trap us into thinking things will improve over time…on their own…without the emotional labor required to expand the way we love, relate and communicate with each other.

So, when you’re ready to plant a seed of connection, take a moment, pause and ask yourself:

What do I truly want my relationship to look like / feel like?

Am I able to express that to my partner/friend/family member clearly; with generosity and without blame?

Drop the assumption “I’m trying…I’m doing everything…and they are the uncaring, unreasonable one.”

Look inward.

Consider dropping your demand for the kind of happiness that looks outward.

As the co-creator of every relationship you’ve ever been in…rather than examining how others show up for you…start by looking inward…and ask:

How do I imagine I show up in this relationship?

Then ask:

How do I actually show up?

Do You Even See Me?

Now and then in moments of frustration, you might ask: Do you even see me?

It’s a legitimate question!

Especially in intimate partnerships because as we get to know people and spend time with them, we may not feel fully seen.

It’s also possible that we may not see others as they really are.

Instead, we may see them for who we would like them to be. Inevitably, they fall short.

Yes, it’s hard to acknowledge that we judge people against some abstract vision we hold in our head; some idealized version of who we want them to be.

It’s unconscious…and happens often…sometimes at the speed of light.

Typically, this is when we start “should-ing”…

    “You should…”
    “I should…”
    “They should…”

When we see people through the lens of “should”, there will always be lack.

The message we give is:

    Not quite right…
    A disappointment of sorts…
    Slightly off…
    Not quite good enough…

This can apply to just about anyone…an intimate partner, a special friend or colleague.

Sometimes we “should” even on ourselves!

When we see human beings against an ideal of what we think they ‘should’ be, it’s impossible to see them for who they are.

We rarely allow people the space to be who they are and to express themselves fully.

There’s almost always some kind of thinking…a commentary in the background.

We react with impatience, throw an internal eye-roll their way, then defend and judge.

Rarely are we curious about who they are, what they say or the way they say it.

This background commentary in our heads is powerful and disruptive for both parties.

It fragments connection and gets in the way of relating.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not advocating ‘anything goes.’ Or that anyone tolerate the intolerable.

What I am advocating…is that everyone is responsible for the emotional labor it takes to be in a great relationship.

So, just for today, let go of the commentary.

Drop the eye-roll and breathe. Then watch what happens next.

It may not last long, but how you experience yourself…and the other person…is going to change in that moment.

Love and Relationship Principles

Relationship core principles are not tools, rules or methods that are set in stone.

And this is really important…  

They’re a framework for loving that we can adapt and make our own.  

  • Availability
  • Kindness
  • Curiosity
  • Presence
  • Engagement
  • Listening
  • Generosity
  • Responsiveness
  • Patience
  • Acceptance

As concepts, they’re so simple that we might scoff and brush them off as ‘fortune cookie wisdom’. 

But applying them every day… in a life dedicated to incorporating loving qualities…well…that’s where we are all challenged.

Still, we try. 

We set out each morning with the best intentions…and for whatever reason, things rarely work out as planned.

In our head we see ourselves as kind and loving, yet we can end up feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, invisible…and frustrated.

The important thing to remember is these principles are guides.

They are a definitive way to approach a relationship and function in the world.

The key is doing; not merely imagining or thinking about them on a conceptual level.

It’s Love…yes with a capital L…when we live them.

It’s LOVE when we  do them…implement and experience them…rather than think about them.

It also takes a ton of practice.

Something Brand New is Emerging

Not terribly long ago almost everyone grew their own food and wove their own cloth.

Then, fueled by the discovery of steam power, the Industrial Revolution burst onto the scene around 1750.

It continued through the 1800’s as a Technological Revolution brought us scientific innovation and mass production.

The 1900’s ushered in the Information Age, quantum physics and, by the early 2000’s we all witnessed the Digital Revolution as it permeated our lives.

Today we have a boundless universe of information at our fingertips, an obesity epidemic and far more stuff than we can ever use.

On social media we stage, enhance and perform our lives for other’s consumption while we tally clicks, likes and friends.

Yes, the internet connects us in many ways yet the technology that was supposed to ‘save’ us time instead has us time-starved and drowning in digital soup.

Simultaneously, loneliness is near universal and considered the #1 public health risk in North America.

As I see it, there’s another revolution emerging; one that will transform us and our planet.

It will take work as we toggle back and forth between joy and pain, commit to be better humans and learn to love well.

Care to join me?

On Generosity

Whether thinking about what you’re going to do today, or for the rest of your life – generosity is a great place to start.

It’s different than tolerance which allows or endures.

Generosity is kind in spirit.

It leads to happiness and engagement in a world that appears increasingly unhappy and disconnected. 

Generosity requires effort and self-trust such that you can take your mind off yourself and your problems long enough to be present and see someone else’s pain.

​​​​​​​It takes guts and willingness to be generous.

It also takes emotional labor; enough that you’ll stay in the game when the biggest part of you wants to shut down and walk away.