Couples Counseling Articles

Wellness Counseling Center

Communication, Creativity and Contradictions

Reading any news headline makes me think deeply about the source of turmoil.

We can pretend things will get back to normal soon.

We can tell ourselves that our lives and the world are not forever changed. 

We can continue the exhausting human habit of resisting pain and bracing ourselves for (mostly) imaginary disaster.

We can even continue to relate to each other as before; tiptoeing around the under-currents of anger and tension. 

We have a choice; we can hold back or we can speak up. 

What keeps us from speaking up at home AND in the world, I believe, is fear. 

It also prevents us from loving well.

The moment we recognize our emotions as the organizing principle of truth and we’re willing to speak them out loud…..

We’re inclined to take more risks and make a ruckus.

That’s when our relationships are transformed.

Spoiler alert – speaking our emotions is not the same as venting, blaming, criticizing or acting out.

Rather, it’s a courageous and messy process brimming with creativity, communication and contradiction. 

One way or another, it seems we’re all headed in the direction of more truth-telling.

Either we embrace the shift or we keep doing things the old way.

Isn’t it good to know we have a choice?

Love, Loneliness and Connection

My attorney married his college sweetheart after she finished medical school.

They were married only a short time, which he describes as the loneliest three years of his life.

To this day, he has never remarried.

In 2018, loneliness emerged as a silent epidemic in North America.

In today’s almost-post-quarantine-world, we have a national health crisis on our hands.

Oddly, loneliness is not defined by our surroundings nor does it have a direct relationship to distance or geography.

We can feel lonely and emotionally alone even in beautiful space with people we love.

It’s an internal sense or comfort level and is distinct from solitude.

Solitude is an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. It’s voluntary and tends to enhance our personal growth, creativity and well-being. It brings up emotions…but in a good way.

Loneliness feels heavy and is burdened with shame. Stigma surrounds it and creates an unconscious desire to escape. The brain says, “Anywhere but here.”

In research circles, there is an evolution in thinking about loneliness and its link to depression, anxiety and addiction.

Meanwhile, most people have become experts at suppressing loneliness with magical thinking and….let’s admit it….our over use of electronic devices.

When that doesn’t work, we withdraw, stay busy or self-medicate with something or someone.

As unrelenting as the state of loneliness may seem, it is reversible.

First, we can lift the burden of shame by recognizing and acknowledging that we all need human connection as much as we need food and water.

Then we can de-stigmatize loneliness by talking about our experiences and understanding it for what it is:

a near-universal human condition we can do something about.

New Normals Will Come and Go

Just for today, I’m unwilling to listen to noise about the new normal.

In normal times, most of us forget we’re even there.

We’re on autopilot and rarely give normal a second thought until a new normal wants to take over.

First, we protest. Then we problem-solve and adjust….over and over again.

That’s what we do and humans are really, really good at it.

We are natural-born problem solvers. And you could say, we take normal for granted until it’s gone.

Taking things for granted may seem like a harsh term…. especially at a time when people are searching for security and stability.

But step-by-step we know how to connect, share, problem solve and make change happen.

It takes focus and energy. And sometimes…. it takes an intervention.

Still, it seems important to remind ourselves.

Because it’s easy to forget the miracles and the smallest normals that make our lives extraordinary.

For example,

You swallow about 2,000 times a day or once every 30 seconds on average….

Blink about 14,000 times per day and touch your face 16 times per hour, on average.

All virtually invisible to us….

until we try not to blink, swallow….

or touch our face.

The Moment I Knew…

I had mine at 42 and have had several since.

Almost everyone has a moment. It’s when you know or understand something that was previously a source of confusion. Somehow out of reach.

This moment of clarity can be filled with relief…or terror.

Maybe it’s been germinating in the background for years. But when a ‘moment of knowing’ shows up, it feels sudden…and it’s packed with lessons that teach us how to listen and trust ourselves.

If we listen, life starts moving in a new direction.

Here are some examples of such moments……

  • I’m going to marry him/her.
  • We’re pregnant.
  • My life isn’t working anymore.
  • Something’s got to change.
  • I’m going to start a business.
  • I need to go back to school.
  • I want a new job.
  • I’m going to leave him/her.
  • S/he is going to divorce me.
  • We need an intervention.
  • I’ve been betrayed.
  • I must do that ONE thing I’m afraid to do…or at least try!

Typically, these are intimate landmark moments of knowing. They’re about ordinary things….that end up creating memorable, life-altering experiences.

These game-changing moments do not like being neglected.

When ignored, they don’t disappear.

Instead, they wait patiently…for years, sometimes decades…until the next opportunity arises.

And, when it taps you on the shoulder, that’s when you know. This is the moment.

How Do We Make Things Better?

We don’t think of it often but, culture defines nations, neighborhoods, families …and corporate entities.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ have different cultures, for example.

Families differ culturally too…

And, every marriage merges two cultures.

When we spent Thanksgiving with one of my relatives, my dad would grumble all the way home.

It makes no sense,” he would say with an eye-roll, “Why would anyone serve Jello at a holiday meal?”

Culture is a set of ideas that affect our behavior in certain ways.

It’s shared information and values….stored mostly in our brains.

(Yes, it’s also stored in libraries and museums.)

Some of these stored ideas are clear and explicit. Others, not so much.

They’re vague and few ideas last for long.

Most simply disappear.

But when an idea is exceptional (good or bad) it gets embedded and resistant to change.

Like long-lasting relationships, long-lived ideas start to shift too.

When the shift happens…and it always does…perhaps the most important question to ask is,

How do we make things better?

Couples, Communication and Confusion

It can happen while sitting around sipping an extraordinary Australian cabernet….

Or between episodes of Bridgerton…..

Or even while giving simple directions to someone you love.

Things can get awkward and frustrating because communication is fundamentally flawed.

Even the best communication involves abstraction and guesswork on the part of both people.

It’s filled with errors on the part of the communicator and misunderstandings by the recipient.

Messages shared and messages received are rarely the same.

And, over time…patterns develop.

Communicating with any human being depends on putting an abstraction, or thought, into words as precisely as possible.

At first glance the recipient thinks s/he understands….but take a closer look… and you’ll see that they have to guess.

Does s/he mean exactly this? OR Does s/he mean exactly THIS?

The brain gets confused and it happens so fast that we don’t notice.

Even if we do….we rarely take time to check things out …because we’re not doing scientific research here…right? Instead, we move on.

The brain makes a quick interpretation and we make our decision from there.

Seems simple enough, right? But hold on.

We also ‘make meaning’ out of these new interpretations.

If there’s a meaning or interpretation we don’t like….well….the brain can take us on a harrowing roller coaster ride full of emotional ups and downs.

That’s when we develop a false sense of certainty….and the brain makes up even MORE stories we believe to be true.

It all happens in seconds and when the stories fit our narratives and beliefs…

…we get frustrated… rarely show mercy….and find someone to blame.

Sometimes, we even blame ourselves.

Perhaps…these self-created interpretations get in the way for all of us.

These Essentials Are The Solution… But They’re Not For Everyone

Problems are conflicts of ideas and perception.

I may have an idea and see things one way. That means something to me.

My partner sees things another way….. that means something to him.

There’s a good possibility we’ll fuss over it.

This kind of conflict happens to all couples and most often…..we move on.

Because most problems are uninteresting and work themselves out.

But there are times when a couple gets stuck in a conversation that goes around in circles.

It’s a never ending cycle and can be about something major….or seemingly insignificant.

A negative pattern can develop in the relationship that is so profound, it brings up dread.

Oh, no. Here we go again!

Once embedded in the relationship, this cyclical pattern can go on for years, even decades.

Try deflecting it with silence or politeness and it works for a while.

Then comes the inevitable jab.

It hurts.

For lots of people, it’s easier to just take the jab; stay quiet and wait.

It keeps things tidy. It also keeps things from getting better.

The ultimate solution requires courage; taking off the mask and stepping into possibility.

It involves taking risks and speaking up….simply….creatively.

These are the essentials that get us UNSTUCK and move things forward.

And this is where we find passion, connection, emotional safety and trust.

I’m Betting on The Future

My team and I built this Word Cloud to recognize the New Year and start fresh in a changing world.

We used words that best embody who we are and the work we do. We trust they’ll guide us as well.

I share them with you because….I’m betting on the future.

2020 gave us a history-accelerating crisis, dysfunctional politics, ineffective governance, amplified inequality, explosive social tension, isolation and an unspeakable sense of helplessness.

It also gave us businesses that shuttered as cardboard boxes, with smiles on them, landed on our doorstep….one after another.

2020 shined a spotlight on our unshakable ideal; that ‘more’ and ‘bigger’ are better.

It left some of us wondering how we’ve changed…..how some of us absorbed the trauma of lockdowns and others revolted….

While others still risk their lives every day, working harder than ever, supporting themselves and their families….helping those who need it most.

We get weary of bad news. I know. Sometimes it’s just too much so we look for distractions.

Anything to help avoid the unfathomable tragedy and enormous loss of life….fellow Americans….over 350,000 to date and more to come.

I think we have to distract ourselves…..not because we don’t care…..but because it’s too big.

No one really knows how to access that level of compassion and empathy.

Yet, here we are, in the New Year….each of us, doing our best to maintain equilibrium.

I believe we will come out of this crisis remade both individually and as a culture…. and no one knows what that will look like.

Still…I’m betting on the future.

There will be so much NEW to get used to; how we live, work, heal, communicate and learn.

The differences may not be obvious at first.

What’s likely to become obvious….pretty quickly….is how much we need each other.

We’ll witness a sped-up version of the world we knew and, most of us will try to keep up.

This will amplify our fatigue, frustrations, our vulnerability and…our fears.

If we cover our eyes as the pace accelerates…..and pretend like it’s not happening….even our denial could get bigger.

All of this might make you want to hit the snooze button!

But you won’t.

Instead, consider this your wakeup call and an opportunity to transform…..to tap into the transformative stuff you are made of.

It’s an opportunity to choose…..to be creative and harness some of the forces that have been unleashed…..and help move this accelerating world toward a more compassionate and more appealing destination.

Here are some of the things we’re doing and YOU can do too:

  • Slow down before speeding up.
  • Identify your most deeply held values and beliefs.
  • Prioritize.
  • Focus on what’s important; leave the rest.
  • Identify your genius…your superpower.
  • Approach with new commitment.
  • Be trustable.
  • Speak truth.
  • Love more.
  • Commit to do creative work every day that connects people and builds peace.

This is our commitment and why I’m betting on the future.

Truth be told….I’m betting on you too and I would love, love, love to hear from you!

Working From Bed

After binge watching The Crown a while back, I read that Winston Churchill frequently ran Britain from bed.

He’d stay there till 1pm with his typewriter and Scotch, reading and firing off memos to his ministers.

I’ve always loved that idea and considering where we are these days…..I can tell you…..it’s …awesome!

It’s also luxurious and feels REALLY GOOD. (Minus the Scotch – ONLY because I can’t consume alcohol and work at the same time!)

Where is she going with this?…. you ask.

Well…..I want to remind you, that love and connection feel REALLY GOOD too!

If that feel-good sensation is missing in your relationship, consider this…..

It’s always confusing when partners experience emotional pain AND profess to love each other.

Look a little closer and you’ll notice a sense of unsafe-ness or lack of trust. It happens when we feel

  • Judged
  • Invisible
  • Unappreciated
  • Unheard
  • Rejected
  • Overwhelmed
  • Not-good enough or
  • Shamed.

It’s also there when we feel

  • Hurt
  • Abandoned
  • Unimportant
  • Unwanted
  • Isolated
  • Alone
  • Disconnected or
  • Desperate.

ALL of these emotions are real and reflect a lack of emotional safety and trust.

This is when our hearts hurt, our brains light up like Christmas trees and our central nervous system goes into overdrive.

This is a UNIVERSAL human experience….and happens automatically when we feel unsafe.

Our bodies (and our brains) respond with the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.

No matter who we are, what we do for a living or where we come from…. our brains and hearts ALWAYS want to know:

  • Are you there for me?
  • Am I safe with you?
  • How are we doing?
  • What’s next? and
  • Where do we go from here?

If the answer to any of these questions is ambiguous or a flat out ’No’…… bad things start to happen….from the inside out.

This year, more than any other, our emotions and reactions have been on steroids.

So give yourself – and those around you – a break.

Do whatever you need to do and make mental Wellness YOUR top priority for 2021.

That means committing to self-care by…

  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Eating clean food.
  • Hydrating often.
  • Moving your body.
  • Tapping into wisdom.
  • Having a spiritual connection and…. above all else
  • Cultivating relationships.

If you can’t do them all – then simply pick ONE and start.

This crazy, crisis-filled year has been a challenge for everyone – including the entire Wellness Team!

  • We’ve learned a lot and Self-Care is one of the things we’re keenly aware of – now more than ever.
  • That’s why I want to share a few important details with you before taking my own, personal long-awaited and well-deserved time off.

Our offices will have very limited coverage beginning Monday December 21 thru Friday, January 1 inclusive. We will be back at our desks Monday January 4. We will check email and return calls during that time – but on a very limited basis.

Because what we do is so important to our clients and their families, it’s a priority for the Wellness team to take some solid time to rest and celebrate with our own families.

Please plan accordingly.

We appreciate YOU more than words can say and want only the BEST for you.

We wish you a wonderful Holiday Season and encourage you to take good care of your (PRECIOUS) self and the people you care about!

Stay safe and stay healthy!