To be an intentional couple, one of the core skills that must be mastered is the art of listening. We have been given gross information about what listening is and how we should do it. Some folks think that they should be making grand facial expressions while mutter “uh huh…”, nodding their head and wrinkling their brow to show that they are listening. But listening is something entirely different. Today we are going to talk about why we listen and how we alter our approaches to listening.
We listen for four key reasons: to allow someone to vent, to help them unpack something in their head, to seek understanding, and perhaps to resolve something. Let’s look at each of them independently.
What is yelling? When a partner denies that they yell, I wonder if they know what they sound like. I think there are two distinct types of yelling. The first, is the basic and popular raised voice yelling. It often starts at our toes and rolls up our core until it comes out of our mouths as a strong bellowing exhortation of increased volume, often accompanied by words that would offend us if they were spoken to us. The other type of yelling is more complex. It is tight and constricted. It starts in our throat. It is not loud and bellowing. The volume is not out of range. However, it is the tone – sharp, clipped, judgmental, and cuts like a knife. It feels like yelling to the recipient.
I always say “Come to couples’ therapy when there is something to work on. It is an easier road than when you wait until you are injured and broken and looking for salvation and healing.” One of the gratifying aspects of being a couples and sex therapist is when a couple decides to come see me when they are building their future rather than when they come to me in distress. Premarital therapy is one of those opportunities where both partners are looking to learn more, grow together and find some open curiosity. However, this can also be a time of great stress and challenging relationships.
In a 15th century poem attributed to James I of Scotland, Cupid has three arrows: gold, for a gentle “smiting” that is easily cured; the more compelling silver; and steel, for a love-wound that never heals. Indeed, romance, rancor and revenge often comprise the trilogy of arrows in the quivers of our impassioned clients as well.
Reese, a 17 year old female high school student, came out to her friends and family as bisexual a couple of years ago. Most of her family told her it was “just a phase” and now her friends ask her, “Are you sure you’re bisexual?” and “Are you still bisexual, you haven’t dated any girls?” These questions may seem innocent and inquisitive, but they dismiss Reese’s feelings and her friends are essentially telling her that doesn’t know herself. These questions and comments are microaggressions, intentional or unintentional insults, slights and/or derogatory questions and comments at target marginalized groups of people; in this case LGBTQ people.
Food is more than physical nourishment. It's love. It's a cultural, sensorial and emotional experience. It ties us to our family, our heritage, holds memories and provides opportunity for connection. It can be one of life's greatest pleasures. It can also be a source of pain.
Do you believe in soulmates? Chances are you do.
Last year, a survey conducted in the U.S. by Wakefield Research found that 76% of Americans believe in a soulmate. Rates were even higher for millennials (86%). So what is a soulmate?
So often couples come to see me in great frustration because each partner thinks the other is trying to fix them or control them. This behavior comes out in a variety of ways… often intended to be helpful or focused on making the relationship better. However, it often results in anger and disconnect. Partners report feeling misunderstood and begin to feel justified when their helping ways are questioned. They say things like “If you would only listen to me…” and “I told you so...” and “Don’t feel that way baby….”
One of my favorite things about working with men is talking about manhood. Really understanding where their definition of manhood was developed and how it is present in their everyday life. This conversation is really interesting as most men are thinking about this for the first time.
Your friends, colleagues, and spouse are driven by a few core motivations – one of them is control. We humans are programmed to master our environment and this gets tricky when dealing with other humans. Why?
There has been a common theme going in much of the work I have been doing with couples of late. I am hearing folks coming in talking about how their partner responds to them in a way that makes them feel emotionally assaulted. Often, these couples are well intentioned, loving, and looking for connection but for some reason they are having arguments that do not make sense.
The other day I was discussing the emotional toll of fighting and hurt in intimate relationships with some folks. We were talking about what happens after the fight. You know…when we have apologized, we know that it is time to move on and there is nothing more to process, but you still feel yucky inside.
I often will ask people basic questions very early on in my work with them, “So, how did you learn about sex? Who taught you?” The answers I get back are usually akin to “My friends.” “Nobody taught me, I learned by myself.” “TV, the Internet, porn.” “Experimentation”. Then I ask, “What messages did you get about sex?” The answers to that question are more widespread and diverse. Some are positive. Some are negative. Some are accurate. Some are not!
Every relationship has a unique storyline. Like the greatest romances of our day, there is an arc from the first meeting to dramatic denouement. We grow thinking that adult relationships begin with an air of mystery and intrigue, survive through milestones and hardships before drifting into the happily ever after – until they don’t.
My dog is in training to be a therapy dog. Marcel is a natural- he’s gentle, sweet, and at 11lbs, he was bred to be a lap dog. Though I’ve only brought him to the office with me for a few weeks now, clients immediately notice when he isn’t there and ask with notable disappointment, “Where’s Marcel?” I don’t take it personally, rather, I understand.
We work hard to get the job. We interview as best we can. We get the job. But, how often do we really get a good job description. I am talking about the job of partner, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, husband, wife. More people sit in my office and say things like "S/he is just never happy...no matter what I do!" or "S/he keeps pushing me away and I don't know why!"
Many times in therapy we explore our relationship with our parents and how it affects us. Let's face it, since parents are our role model and the people we learn to find security from, it is always intuitive to explore the relational dynamics between us and them. Not very often we talk about our siblings. There isn't even a Sibling Day! Also, doctoral researchers have found many correlations between birth order and personality traits. And if you look into this matter, you might find yourself checking those boxes.
When I start working with a new couple or individual around relationship concerns I often begin by asking them what their relationship goals are. Most, but not all, will tell me that they are just looking for a nice, loving, monogamous relationship. They say that like I am supposed to know what that means -- and I don't. Not that I am clueless, but rather because I know that there is more than one meaning to the word monogamous.
You can’t dig your way out of a hole. Think about it. You are in a hole and you keep digging. What happens? Eventually, the hole gets so deep that you can’t throw the dirt out of the hole anymore and it just keeps falling back down around you. If you start to dig sideways, the integrity of the walls weakens and risks falling in around you. What should you do?
There seems to be a thread in the conversations I have had lately with many of the men I see in my practice. Our discussions are centering on the institutionalization influences of how masculinity is defined. We have entered into these talks from a variety of perspectives but we seem to end up circling around the same concerns. Coming to grip with how men define their own manhood is a pressured and loaded situation.