Five Benefits to Premarital Counseling

 By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

You’re engaged! Congrats! Looking at your ever-growing list of wedding planning tasks, take a moment to consider adding premarital counseling to the top. Here are five benefits to completing premarital counseling with your partner before saying “I do.”

1.     Identifying potential future problem areas

Premarital counseling delves into topics most couples don’t usually think too much about before tying the knot. Questions such as, “How much input do you want from your in-laws about raising your kids?”, “Do you view debt as a shared or separate responsibility?”, “What feels fair for division of household chores?”, “How much time do you each need alone versus together?”, allow couples to begin talking about their differences, and potential areas of disagreement. Talking about how you’re going to handle your finances now, before you are fighting about how the money is being spent, allows for greater understanding of your partner’s thoughts and feelings. The more information you have about potential problem areas, the more proactive you and your partner can be about managing them.

2.     Improving communication in the now

Premarital counseling is an great opportunity to address any communication issues you and your partner have now, before they become set in stone and more difficult to change later. Learning how to share your emotions, listen to your partner, take accountability, and ask for your needs are difficult things to do. Premarital counseling provides tools to do so more effectively without blaming and hurting the other person.

3.     Setting up relationship expectations

We all have expectations about relationships and about marriage. Unfortunately, we often don’t know what those expectations were until they are not met. Talking openly about your expectations in premarital counseling allows for you and your partner to co-create your marriage expectations together and establish a shared sense of understanding and commitment.

4.     Discussing short and long term goals

Planning the future with your partner needs to go a few steps further than just the wedding. Premarital counseling provides the space to discuss both short and long term goals, making ideas about the future more concrete and tangible. It also provides an opportunity to discuss ways to reach those goals and move forward as a team.

5.     Learning new things about each other

Amazingly, there is always more to learn about your partner. Premarital counseling provides a unique opportunity for you and your partner to learn and grow together. It cultivates curiosity and a sense of adventure, establishing a positive foundation for you and your partner to embark from.

Braving the Wilderness: A Mini Review

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

I recently read Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book on the quest for true belonging in an era of emotional disconnection and political toxicity. I have long been a fan of Dr. Brown’s work; I try to reread her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong every chance I get, and I am constantly recommending them to both clients and friends alike. I had very high hopes for her newest work, and let me tell you, it surpassed even my incredibly high expectations.

Here is a mini-review of the book, including reasons for its potency and relevance, and some of my favorite takeaways.

Brown explores to the rise of disconnection in our communities. She sees that our political parties have become gangs that leave no room for dissent amongst us. Perhaps more importantly, if we stay inside these bunkers, we lose the ability to connect with those on the outside. We are the most separated and siloed we have ever been, and despite being surrounded by the people who (likely) share our political beliefs, we are also the most lonely, isolated and disconnected we have ever been. So, while we may be gathered under the same bunkers of political ideology, we are really still alone.

Rather than continuing to stay in our bunkers and stonewalling (or fighting) with anyone who has a different belief than ours, Brown encourages us to learn to stand in the wilderness and begin to have the hard and painful conversations. Only through these moments of real connection can we better belong to ourselves and to one another.

To do this with any sort of success, Brown provides practices and tools that are meant to help us step into and become, what she calls “the wilderness”, both rooted deeply in our beliefs and integrity, and courageous enough to open ourselves to those around us even if we know it might not be popular opinion. We must choose courage over comfort and learn to embrace vulnerability. Both vulnerability and joy are the keys to true belonging.

Here are her tips for braving the wilderness:

  • Boundaries: Set/Hold/Respect them. The challenge is letting go of being liked and the fear of disappointing.
  • Reliability: Do not over commit or overpromise to please others or prove yourself.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Accountability: Issue meaningful apologies. Let go of blame and stay out of shame.
  • Vault: Share only what is yours to share. Stop using gossip to hotwire a quick connection with someone.
  • Integrity: Choose courage over comfort. Practice living in your values.
  • Generosity: Be honest and clear with others about what is ok and what is not.

Brown masterfully provides both research findings and anecdotes to better explain and unpack how these tools show up in our daily lives and why they are so integral to true belonging. One of my favorite sections from the book was a practice called: Hold Hands with Strangers.

She teaches that collective joy and pain are the cornerstones of human connection; “seek out moments of collective joy and show up for collective pain.” These are the moments that reinforce our human connection, such as concerts, sporting events and even movies where there is a palpable force of love and connection in the audience. Have you ever felt an experience of collective joy? For me, singing songs arm in arm with my best friends at my childhood summer camp triggers those memories. Even the joy I experienced at a Beyoncé concert, singing and dancing with strangers who loved her the same way I do. They were moments that, although maybe silly, made me feel hopeful about the goodness of people.

Moments of collective pain, such as funerals, or sitting with a friend who is grieving or hurting, are profoundly important - albeit much more difficult and uncomfortable. We need both.

Brown shares a study that examined the impact of collective assembly. The findings showed that these experiences “contribute to a life filled with sense of meaning, increased positive affect, increased sense of social connection, and decreased sense of loneliness. All essential components of a happy healthy life.” The best part is, they have a lingering effect; we hold onto these positive feelings past the events themselves.

Even since the rise of social media in the last decade, we have become simultaneously more connected and more isolated and lonely. Brown’s ultimate message resonates with me very deeply - if we want true, authentic belonging in this world, we first have to know who we are, what roots us and only then, can we turn outwards and engage with our friends and communities from a place of curiosity, vulnerability and shared humanity.

There are countless pieces of wisdom in this book, from conflict transformation tools to parenting advice, and its message could not be more important or relevant for our world today. So, pick up a copy - (and then talk to someone about it, in person!)

Talking with Your Teen: 5 Things to Remember

 By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

If social media postings, the array of parenting books, and the countless blogs and newspaper articles available are any indication, little is more mystifying, frustrating, or sanity threatening to parents than raising teenagers. Only the terrible twos and dreaded threenagers can rival teens in attitude, unprovoked outbursts, and confounding behaviors. And while at times talking to your teen may feel like you have reverted to speaking with a toddler, as a parent of teens myself, I can relate, there are a few key things that can aid you in having productive, meaningful, and relationship enhancing conversations with your teen.

1)    Leave your ego at the door.

Dr. Fred Hanna, a wise professor and therapist I know, specializes in working with some of the most challenging teenagers around. He and I share this belief that unless you can set your ego aside, there is almost no room for empathy which is key to being in any relationship, but particularly with teenagers (Hanna, 2016). While his work talks about the therapeutic relationship, I believe it is applicable to the parent/child one as well. When ego is involved a power struggle likely follows, and they rarely end positively for anyone involved. In the book, The Awakened Family, Shefali Tsabary, PhD, talks about how parenting challenges tend to stem from our ego, the blindly reactive piece of us that comes from a place of fear and a need to protect ourselves, our identity, and our desires and expectations for our children. When parents can learn to recognize when their ego is involved, the skills needed to be able to set it aside can be learned as well. Setting aside our ego allows us to take things less personally, and step into a place of empathy for the experiences of the teenagers in our lives. Teenagers often just need to be heard, and have their thoughts, experiences and feelings validated so they can reduce their own defensiveness and have space to hear you. I encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s video on empathy for a clearer understanding of the importance of empathy and consider how you might apply it in future conversations with your teen.

2)    Live your values; practice what you preach

It may seem that your teenager never listens to a word you say, but I promise they are watching everything you do. They can smell hypocrisy a mile away, and almost nothing turns them off faster. When teens in my office are the angriest at the adults in their lives, it tends to be around things they see as unjust or hypocritical. Are you setting rules and consequences based on the values you hold, and you are trying to instill in your child, or are they based the rules you grew up with, or what you have seen other set? Are they set up in a family meeting or given from the top down without any explanation other than “because I said so?”

People rarely like to be told what to do; teenagers are no different. But, when rules, or restrictions, or chores are given in context, with an explanation and discussion where there is potential for input, even teenagers can be convinced to go along. Where I have seen teenagers rebel the most is when they believe that certain rules only apply to them, or that their parents do not live by the standards and values they try to place on their children. One of the ways I have found to assist around this is to do a values exercise with parents and their teens. This can open discussions around the differing values of each member of the family, as well as opportunities to talk about how the family rules line up with its values. When you are clear about your own values, it is easier to remain consistent around the rules that you do set, providing the structure that teenagers need to thrive. As a bonus these exercises can enlighten you about both yourself and your teen. If you would give this a try here are a couple links:

https://www.nwabr.org/sites/default/files/ValuesActivities.pdf

https://www.taproot.com/archives/37771

3)    You were a teenager once too.

Do you remember yourself as a teenager? If not, I am sure your own parents would love to enlighten you about your attitude, rule breaking, talking back, and every other thing you did that made them nuts. This goes back to the empathy piece. You have an opportunity here to empathize with both your teen and your parents. Now might be a great time for that apology. You know they’re relishing that you have a teenager just like you. Take a moment to try and remember how you felt as a teenager. Put yourself back in that place where you felt unheard, unimportant, maybe even unloved. Can you remember how it felt to have your body seemingly go haywire on you? Do you recall how it felt to be left out, or have your first heartbreak, and to believe that nobody could really understand?

If you’re struggling with this, or maybe have some grandiose memories about your teenage years, or a belief that today’s teenagers are so much worse than the teens of our generation, you might want to be suspicious of your memories, as Ken Hardy discusses in Teens who Hurt. Memory becomes softer and more generous with the passage of time. In addition to its selective nature, memory also has a tendency to embellish. Few of us were as good, or respectful, or obedient, as we might like to recall. Find an old yearbook or a journal to see if you can refresh your memory a bit. Try if you can to put yourself back in that place, in those feelings. Consider what you would have liked from the adults in your life back then. See what pieces of that you can provide for you own child. Talk to your teenager, and ask overtly what they need from you, what you can do that would be helpful, and then listen to hear them, rather than listen to respond.

4)    Behaviors usually serve a purpose.

Too often it is teenage attitude and negative behaviors that get a parent’s attention. Too seldom is the question “What is the purpose of this?” asked. One of the quickest ways to determine what the potential purpose of any particular behavior might be it to check in with your own reaction to it. For example, if your child’s behavior leaves you with feelings of being provoked, challenged, or defeated, Jane Nelson, Ed.D. author of the book Positive Discipline, would suggest that the underlying goal of the behavior is around power, and a belief that one belongs only when they are in charge or at least not being bossed around. This scenario seems to resonate with many of my teens and parents. While this book is geared more towards those parenting younger children, I think it still has value for parents of teenagers. It has the potential to offer insight into what is going on for you as well as them, aiding in setting aside ego and increasing curiosity and empathy about what your teenager’s behaviors are trying to tell you. There is a quick reference chart from the book available here to get you started.

5)    Maintaining the relationship matters most.

If you want to continue having a positive influence over your teen and have them turn to you for counsel and support, maintaining your relationship will need to take priority over being right, having control, pride, ego, or your own emotions. This one can be tough. You will often find yourself walking the fence between maintaining structure and consistency, with maintaining the relationship. Flexibility and adaptability will be key to stage in parenting. The plus side is that even when you screw up, teenagers can be some of the most forgiving people I have ever met. When you as a parent can own your mistakes, apologize, and change your behaviors accordingly, teenagers can and do forgive even some of the worst transgressions. They want to be connected to you as much as you want to be connected to them, it just looks different now.  

Raising teenagers is not always easy, but it can be the most rewarding time you ever have as a parent. There is incredible growth potential for you and for them despite its many ups and down. Remember too, you don’t have to do this alone. Family therapy can help with the challenges of transitioning into this new stage of life and parenting. A therapist can assist with a strained relationship, or support for those difficult conversations so many parents dread. We are here to help you navigate this sometimes daunting journey called parenthood.

References

Hanna, F. J., (2016). Ten powerful techniques for helping difficult adolescents to change.

Transition to Parenthood Series

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

PART III: Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

In conversations with new parents, one of the topics that often gets overlooked (and hidden) is the shock that the transition to parenthood can have on the couple. Some couples do transition to co-parents seamlessly, but more often than not, there is an enormous amount of stress associated with this shift, and growing pains to navigate.

[Before diving in, I want to acknowledge and honor that people (individuals and couples) enter into parenthood in a myriad of ways; for the purposes of this post, I am focusing on couples that have been together as romantic partners prior to becoming parents.]

As if the addition of a tiny human wasn’t stressful enough, the transition from partners to co-parents can be one of the most fraught, and often deprioritized. Suddenly, you now have two relationships to foster – your romantic one, and your co-parent one. (There is an upcoming post on the romantic relationship post-baby, stay tuned!)

Often, in times of transition we experience a spike in stress, depression, anxiety and conflict. This applies to everything from moving to a new city to losing a job, and even losing a loved one. Transitions are some of the hardest things we go through as humans – and frequently, we have trouble navigating the new environment we find ourselves in.  Couples can have it particularly hard – as each parent attempts to navigate the demands of parenthood for themselves, they also have to simultaneously make that adjustment as a team. As you can imagine, or you have already experienced, this new territory (plus sleep deprivation) can create the perfect storm for couple conflict.

Why is it important to minimize couple conflict?

While I think most of us can agree that fighting with our spouse is generally unpleasant (and unwanted), we may not have enormous incentive to change our behavior and curb our conflict. Conflict doesn’t just impact our marital satisfaction and mental health, it also impacts our physical wellbeing. There is research linking hostile couple conflict with heart disease, and a slower rate of healing. (Dunn, 55). If that isn’t incentive enough, we have learned that children, even our babies, react negatively to conflict.

Researchers at the University of Oregon were able to conclude that infants as young as six months old react negatively to angry argumentative voices (Dunn, 23). According to Julie and John Gottman, children three to six years old believe that they are the cause of their parents fighting, and children ages six to eight tend to pick sides between parents during conflict (Gottman).  In fact, psychologists have found that the day after a conflict, mothers are better able to compartmentalize and return to normal parenting mode with their children, whereas fathers had a much harder time returning to family life, therefore impacting their relationship with their children. They found that the conflict between parents often spilled over for the father, and resulted in friction between him and the children even days after the fight (Dunn, 24).

So, what does this mean for childhood development? Researchers from Notre Dame found that kindergarteners whose parents fought frequently were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and struggle with behavioral issues by the time they reached seventh grade (Dunn, 24). Babies raised in unhappy marriages have shown a plethora of developmental problems, from delayed speech and potty training to inability to self-soothe (Gottman).

It is unrealistic to assume that you and your partner will never fight. In fact, it would be a disservice to your children if you never showed them conflict at all. Think about it as an opportunity to be on your best behavior to show your children that people can be mad and still love each other. Those two things can certainly co-exist, but the important part is to model fair fighting.

 

Tips for fair fighting & Reducing Conflict:

1.     Active Listening Techniques (Dunn, 72-76)

1. Emotion Labeling – helping to name your partner’s emotions (if you see frustration, you might say – “you seem frustrated”); naming and validating these emotions can take the person from a purely emotional state to a more reflective, rational state (Dunn, 73).

2. Paraphrasing – simply restating your partner’s message in your own words; this tells them that you are listening and absorbing what they are sharing with you.

3. Offering minimal encouragement – this is offering either non-verbal nods, or verbal “mhms” and “yeahs” in order to convey to your partner that you are still tracking them while they speak.

4. Asking open-ended questions – The goal is to avoid yes or no questions but to give your partner more space to share; you can do this by saying “can you tell me more about that?” or “I didn’t understand what you meant by that, but I’d like to. Can you help me by explaining further?” (Dunn, 75).

5. Using “I” Messages – The “I” message allows you to share your feelings in a less provocative manner. Rather than saying “You are always late!” you could try “I feel so frustrated when you’re late because …”

2.     What NOT to do – Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Gottman, )

1. Criticism – insults, using phrases like “you always…” or “you never…”

2. Defensiveness – counterattacking, whining, denying responsibility

3. Stonewalling – freezing out your partner and shutting down mid conversation; 85% of stonewallers are men because they tend to become so overwhelmed by conflict that their limbic system shuts them down, unable to take in new information (and leaves their partner in the lurch.)

4. Contempt – cynicism, attacking your partner’s character, eye-rolling, mocking, and sarcasm(!)

 

3.     Take a time out

Sometimes, conflicts can just become too overwhelming and out of control. If you are “deadlocked” – take a break. Gottman found that it takes approximately 30 minutes for the chemicals released during a conflict to exit the body. After this time, come back together and try discussing the topic with some of the included tools (Gottman).

 

4.     If all else fails: here is a helpful script (courtesy of Julie & John Gottman and Jancee Dunn)

[Share hidden soft emotion, like hurt/sad/betrayed/isolated] when [describe what happened without blame]. Then, [State your need clearly]. [admit your role in the conflict] and [accept influence]. Finally, [repair.]

For example -

[share soft emotion] I felt hurt when [what happened without blame] our childcare plans fell through last minute and I was left to figure it out by myself since you were out of town. [ask for what you need] I need you to help me set up childcare and backup options so that the burden isn’t entirely on me. [admit your role] I was already stressed when this happened, so I totally acknowledge that I lost my cool with you. [accept influence] I trust your ability to help choose babysitters so I would love your input. [repair] I’m sorry I lost my temper when we discussed this before and I’m hopeful we can get through this together.

Sources & Resources:

Dunn, Jancee. How not to hate your husband after kids. Little, Brown and Company, 2018

Gottman, John M., and Julie Schwartz. Gottman. And Baby Makes Three: the Six-Step for Preserving Martial Intimacy and Rekindling Romance after Baby Arrives. Three Rivers Press, 2007.

Gottman, John M. and Silver, Nan. The seven principles for making marriage work. Cassell Illustrated, 2018.

Back From the Honeymoon.....Now What?

 By Karen Focht, LMFT

By Karen Focht, LMFT

There is so much time and energy that goes into planning a wedding.  Although this process can be stressful, it also comes with feelings of excitement and exhilaration.  After all of those countless hours of planning your big day comes and goes in a matter of moments! 

Through both my personal and professional experience over the years, I have seen the joyful heightened state of a couple experiencing their wedding and honeymoon, and then the quick jolt back into the reality of day to day life.  How do we keep that sweet honeymoon glow as we transition back to life as a now married couple?  Here are a few tips to consider.

1.     Tap into new interests:  Make a list with your partner to identify new interests to peruse together as a couple.  This could include a class on cooking, knife skills or improve, just to name a few.

2.     Get connected to other strong couples:  Creating a positive support network which includes other couples can strengthen your relationship’s foundation and offer additional support through challenging times that may come up in the future. 

3.    Explore your city:  Create time out of the ordinary with one another.  Visit a museum, check out a new hotspot, or spend time outdoors in your neighborhood

4.     Check In:  Carve out intentional time each week to sit down and connect around your relationship.  What are your strengths as a couple?  What are the challenges you face and how can you work together to improve upon these challenges?

5.     Seek additional support:  Therapy is not only important through the challenging times, but can also be tremendously helpful to continue to strengthen relationships while they flourish. 

Transition to Parenthood Series

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

PART II: Becoming a Mother

We are all taught to believe that pregnancy & motherhood are magnificent times in a woman’s life and that we, as women, intuitively transition into parenthood. What we aren’t taught is that often this transition also comes with shock, disappointment and fear. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog series is to shed light on certain parts of this transition that may not be discussed as easily or openly in our communities and amongst our friends. In this post, I will be exploring some of the stories and myths around becoming a mother.

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD – a psychiatrist and obstetric gynecologist, who specializes in perinatal mood disorders, working almost exclusively with pregnant and postpartum women. She referred to the period of becoming a mother as “maitrescence.” Similar to adolescence, which we widely acknowledge to be a time of intense struggle and transition, maitrescence is another highly destabilizing time in a woman’s life, yet it often doesn’t get the same attention or acknowledgment.

Becoming a parent is a massive identity shift; once it happens, it is forever. You may have months and years to think about it and prepare, but the transition is instant; one moment your baby is safe and secure inside of you and the next, he or she is out in the world, needing your nourishment, warmth, and safety. You are responsible for a tiny little life and it is terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

Many of the struggles Dr. Birndorf sees in her work are about the expectations women have about motherhood, and the disappointment and confusion that sometimes sets in when those expectations do not meet reality. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve heard and had on the difficulties of becoming a mother:

  • There is a narrative that I heard constantly when I was pregnant. That is, the moment you see your baby, you will be instantly attached and in love. Yes, many women do feel instant love and connection to their baby, but for others it takes more time to bond and experience feelings of love. It can be embarrassing, or even shameful to admit that your experience is outside this “norm.” More often than not, we keep these ‘shameful’ feelings a secret and let them ruminate.                                                       
  • You may need to mourn the loss of your freedom. Often we cannot even conceptualize the immense sacrifice that motherhood entails until we are in the throws of it all. Learning to give up your solo time, to no longer be able to run out of the house for an errand or walk the dog without a plan in place, or to have an impromptu date night with your partner – these are all difficult adjustments.                                                                                                                                                                        
  • Productivity is a trap and it is not serving you. Many of us measure the success of our days based on how productive we were. Give yourself permission to step off that productivity treadmill during this transition – because feeding a newborn (every two hours!), feeding yourself, and trying to sleep somewhere in between, is a full day. This is not the time for more work (or to worry about checking things off a to-do list, no matter how much your internal overachiever wants you to!) One helpful tactic I like to fall back on is to ask myself, what would I say to my best friend if she were sharing these feelings with me?                        
  • Your body has just gone through a major trauma and depending on your delivery, you may be in a huge amount of pain, and unable to care for your baby the way you hoped you would in the first weeks. Treat your body like you are treating your newborn – with care, concern, love and patience. Again, what would I say to my best friend if she were in this position? Can we work to show the grace and love we show to others, to ourselves?                                                                                                   
  • You are no longer the center of attention – for the doctors or your partner. For nine months you are under the care of a doctor every month (and eventually every week); you have a treasured spot in our society as a pregnant woman and often you are doted on, cared for and pampered like you have never been before (totally deserved by the way, you are growing a human life.) But, often all of that love and attention (from doctor, from partner, from the world) is transferred over to baby, and you may be left wondering where all the attention went. (Women are often not required to see your doctor until six weeks after your delivery, while newborns see his or her pediatrician 3-4 times in six weeks.)

This is such a hard thing to acknowledge, and it might feel embarrassing or inappropriate to say that you need some extra love and attention when there is a little baby in the picture. Honor those needs and communicate what you are feeling to both your partner and your doctors.

  • Becoming a mother can elicit questions that might feel overwhelming; Am I ready to be a mother? Who do I want to be as a mother? What do I want my child to experience in their childhood? But also, how was I mothered? Are there pieces of that story that are upsetting or triggering? Setting time aside to truly reflect on these questions can be daunting, but the reward is just as much yours as it is your baby’s.

If all of these weren’t enough, you may be experiencing a shift in your hormones, sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety symptoms all while you are caring for a newborn. See my post about Postpartum Depression (& Perinatal Mood Disorders) in Part 1 of The Transition to Parenthood series.

Additional resources & books:

More about Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD and her most recent projects: https://www.themotherhoodcenter.com/         

Postpartum Support & Information

Nurture by Erica Chidi Cohen

Bringing up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman

Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly

Art of Waiting, by Belle Boggs

SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NorthShore MOMS Line
1-866-364-MOMS (866-364-6667)
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.

Introducing: The Transition to Parenthood Series

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

As some of you may know, I had my first child at the beginning of this year. Welcoming this addition to my family has been so special, incredibly emotional and, at times, completely overwhelming. I am so grateful for the many Mamas who have shared their stories both personally (and in writing,) helping to bring the variance of experiences into the open.

A theme that continues to surface is the importance of being aware and informed of the potential challenges, risks and changes that may arise during this major transition. This way, if /when something comes up, you can identify what is happening and give that experience a ‘name.’ Once it is named, you can externalize your symptoms; step outside of the feeling momentarily and recalibrate your response. Most importantly, you can know you are not the only person with these thoughts and feelings.

My hope is that through this series, more mothers and fathers can be empowered to seek solidarity in their experiences, better identify any symptoms they may have or see in their partners’ and open a dialogue for parents to explore the gifts, challenges and surprises of the transition to parenthood.

Part 1: Postpartum Depression

As a therapist, one of the biggest risks that I am mindful of is postpartum depression. It is likely you have heard of PPD and how scary it can be, or perhaps you know someone who has experienced it; for those who haven’t, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth.

“Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. After childbirth, the levels of hormones in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression.” - National Institute of Mental Health

While I am able to identify the symptoms of PPD and help my clients navigate and treat their own experiences, this does not mean I am in any way immune from the experience itself.  I found myself feeling all sorts of emotions in the weeks after my daughter was born. I was sleep deprived, my hormones felt like they were on a rollercoaster and I was overwhelmed by the demands of a newborn baby. I could cry at the drop of a hat, and found myself snapping at my partner (who was also going through his own transition!) After a few weeks, getting outside, exercising, getting support from other mamas in my community, and allowing time for my hormones to normalize I began to feel more like myself. Knowing that all of these symptoms are completely normal and even to be expected, made them much easier to weather (both for myself and my partner.)

While many of my symptoms dissipated after a few weeks, that is not always the case and it is so important to recognize this risk;

“While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety…Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.” – http://www.postpartum/net

Here are some helpful questions to ask if you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety:

·       Are you feeling sad or depressed?

·       Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?

·       Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?

·       Do you feel anxious or panicky?

·       Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?

·       Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?

·       Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?

·       Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?

·       Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?

(Source: http://www.postpartum.net/)

If you answered yes to one (or a few, or all) of these questions - please know, you are not alone in these feelings and with informed care, you can prevent a worsening of these symptoms and can fully recover. There is no need to continue suffering. Please see below for additional resources and emergency support if necessary.

Post Partum Depression (PPD) is one of many experiences that can arise from the transition to parenthood. Other areas to consider are the couples’ transition to parenthood including changes in arousal and desire, the new division of labor at home, financial responsibility and continuing to find ways to practice self care as parents. I will address these and many other topics in my new Transition to Parenthood series. Stay tuned!

Additional Resources & Supports:

Http://www.postpartum.net

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

https://www.babycenter.com/0_postpartum-depression_227.bc

SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NorthShore MOMS Line
1-866-364-MOMS (866-364-6667)
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.


 

The Power of Positivity

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By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

Prioritizing positivity about ourselves has taken a bit of beating over the years, in part due to the rise of social media. We are invited to compare ourselves, almost constantly, to the rose-colored images of other people’s lives. The impact this is having on our well-being has been tied to an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Our ability to remind ourselves that social media is a highlight reel, rather than a true depiction of others, allows us to stay mindful of reality. It also allows us to cultivate an appreciation for the positive aspects of our own lives.

Feeling grateful increases our sense of satisfaction and our self-esteem. It can also decrease the felt impact from negative experiences. An easy way to begin focusing on the positives in your own life is to keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals have been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep, and increase self-awareness. Dedicate time throughout your week to document what you are grateful for and allow your positive sense of self to flourish.

Learn more about the impact of social comparison here.

Delve further into gratitude journals here.

3 Relationship Resolutions to Reconnect with your Partner in the New Year

By Rachel D. Miller MA, AMFT

It’s that time of year again. Television, radio, and social media are plastered with ads for gyms, weight loss programs, dating sites, and a myriad of products to help you quit whatever bad habit you have resolved to give up this year.

“New year, new you!” has been January’s motivational mantra for decades. For those in committed relationships, this may not be the best approach to New Year’s resolutions. As Dr. Sue Johnson, developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), points out in her book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, “Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”

New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on individual goals, that many abandon before the end of January. Why not make this the year that you add relationship resolutions to your annual list? Ensuring a safe, loving, deep connection with your partner, may just be the thing you need to bring out the best in yourself in the coming year. Here a few suggestions to get you started.

1.     Start couples therapy. Therapy isn’t just for times of crisis. It’s actually a great way to take a proactive approach to your relationship and strengthen your connection.

2.     Refocus on prioritizing, improving, or expanding your sex life. A great sex life is an integral part of a satisfying relationship, but it rarely happens spontaneously, or without intent. Fun ways to do this might include attending a class or workshop at your local adult novelty store, setting up weekly sex dates (yes, planed sexual encounters can still be fun and satisfying), or exploring erotic literature or mutually pleasurable porn together.

3.     Create a book club with your partner. Whether you choose books on relationships, sex, or just share the latest fiction best sellers, reading the same book promotes intentional, planned conversations that do not revolve around things like bills, chores, kids, or work. Some of my personal favorites, if you need a place to start are:

·      Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson

·      The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

·      Come as you are by Emily Nagoski, Phd

·      The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman, PhD & Nan Silver

·      Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

·      Attached by Amir Levine, MD & Rachel S. F. Heller, MA

Sharing experiences, meaningful conversations, and physical intimacy create opportunities for connection and closeness. When we feel securely attached to our partners, and our relationships becomes our safe space, we are better equipped to handle the stresses and challenges life will undoubtedly throw our way, and become our best selves. Make this year different. Focus your energy on a “new us” to help you be successful in your quest for a “new you.”

 

STAYING CONNECTED WITH YOUR PARTNER DURING INFERTILITY

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BY Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Erin McDaniel, who is a fertility coach dedicated to helping women have a more positive family building experience.  Erin is committed to providing unique care and assistance during the challenging time of infertility. I not only have the privilege of working with individuals and couples during the process of infertility, but I have also navigated through my own personal process with secondary infertility.  These experiences have created a passion in supporting couples through this challenging process. When Erin asked if I would be interested in participating in an interview on this very topic I enthusiastically accepted. I hope you enjoy....here it is!


WHAT TIPS CAN YOU SHARE FOR COUPLES WANTING TO STAY CONNECTED DURING THEIR FERTILITY JOURNEY?

The fertility process is experienced differently from partner to partner. With that being said, it is common that each person will have their own individual feelings and needs that may differ from one another. The most important thing to focus on is communicating with your partner, sharing your process, and advocating for your specific needs throughout the journey - while also holding space for your partner's needs. Recognizing and allowing for these differences will create support within the relationship.

DO YOU HAVE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THINGS TO "DO" OR WAYS TO "BE" TO HELP KEEP THE RELATIONSHIP STRONG THROUGH THIS CHALLENGING TIME?

Here are a few things to consider as a couple during the process:

Communication: It is important to allow space for open and honest thoughts and feelings. Remember that the way you deal with the process may look different from your partner. Allow for acceptance of this difference while also advocating for what your specific needs are. The treatment process can at times feel all consuming. Try carving out specified time for a regular check in with your partner each week. This time can be spent sharing your thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears along with checking in with your partner around their needs. Day to day life is already busy and with added doctor's appointments and treatment, it can add challenge to taking the time to share. This check in will make the time while also creating safety in knowing that there is intentional space to share with one another

Counseling: Providing support to one another is important. With that being said, you are each going through this process. Identifying professional support can be vital to keeping communication strong while also providing a platform to share your emotions and experience.

Time for fun: When fertility treatment becomes all consuming, this is when you should think about things you can do together as a couple to help create more of a balance within life and the relationship. This could be as simple as a date night, cooking class or other activity that may have been pushed aside while navigating through the fertility world. Re-engaging in quality time, activities, and hobbies will allow for positivity and connection.

Sex & intimacy: The science behind fertility treatment creates very specific instructions around what you can and can not do...especially when it comes to sex. This can be experienced as taking the fun or pleasure out of the relationship which may result in a decrease in intimacy and sexual satisfaction. If you are instructed to restrain from sex, consider nonsexual forms of touching in order to connect. This could be as simple as a hug, holding hands, massage, or cuddling.

On the other end of the spectrum is the instruction to have intercourse during very specific times. This can often create pressure and take the fun out of sex altogether. Consider making a change to the norm. Plan for a "staycation" with a stay at a local hotel, a night out on the town, or a romantic dinner at home to create an opportunity for something outside of the "norm". Talking about sex with your partner will help build a stronger bond with intimacy. Working with a couples therapist can help guide you through these challenging conversations while providing support.

“The most important message is that each partner is going through this process together in real time...it is important to support one another, but it is also vital to have access to additional support outside of the relationship.”
— — Karen Focht, MA, LMFT of Focht Family Practice

I OFTEN HEAR QUESTIONS FROM MY FEMALE CLIENTS ABOUT THEIR MALE PARTNERS. QUESTIONS LIKE, "HOW IS HE FEELING?", "DOES HE NEED ADDITIONAL SUPPORT?", AND "WHO CAN HE TALK TO?". WHAT RESPONSE WOULD YOU OFFER?

Although it is important to provide support to one another, it is also beneficial for each partner to identify and access additional support through the process. This can be through family, friends, a therapist, or support group. Unfortunately, there aren't many support groups out there for males which ends up reinforcing a message that male partners don't need support. This is not the case and support through community can be very helpful. A list of support group providers can be found here.

MANY WOMEN WILL TELL ME THEIR PARTNER IS THE "ROCK" AND THE "HOPEFUL ONE." THIS WORKS WELL - UNTIL S/HE FALTERS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS THAT YOUR PARTNER MAY BE STRUGGLING, AND WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO HELP?

The most important message with this is the fact that each partner is going through this process together in real time. Yes, it is important to support one another, but it is also vital to have access to additional support outside of the relationship. Being proactive and identifying this support early on will ensure that each partner has options as struggle, disappointment, and challenge may arise.

WHEN SHOULD A COUPLE CONSIDER THERAPY AS PART OF THEIR FERTILITY JOURNEY? WHAT SHOULD THE COUPLE EXPECT FROM THE THERAPY PROCESS?

I find it to be beneficial to proactively seek additional support through this journey, which also includes couples therapy. It is important to identify a therapist who is familiar with fertility treatment and has specific experience working with couples. The therapy process holds a focus of creating a safe platform to communicate and share with one another while also identifying goals to focus on throughout the process.

WHAT ARE SOME RESOURCES YOU RECOMMEND FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION?

Support through fertility treatment is vital. Here are a list of resources to check out:

·       Where to start when looking for a local support group

·       Where to start when looking for an individual or couples therapist

·       Shine Fertility, a Chicagoland non-profit providing free mentorship, support, and education to women with infertility

·       RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association

·       American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)

Click here for full interview details.


I will be participating in a monthly group support call through Shine Fertility on Wednesday, 11/29, at 8:00pm CST.  These calls focus on providing support to anyone facing infertility.  We will be focusing on the topic of staying connected with your partner during infertility.  Click here for more details!

SEI

 BY CAITLIN NELSON, AMFT

BY CAITLIN NELSON, AMFT

Fusion Academy recently hosted Barbara Burgess from The Wright Foundation for a presentation on Social and Emotional Intelligence. I had the opportunity to attend and I want to pass along a few key pieces.

1.  Without access to our emotions, we are unable to be decisive.

Research done by Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist in Southern California, has found that individuals with brain damage to the emotional centers of their brain have immense difficulty making decisions. A study he conducted found these individuals to take 5-6 hours to choose between using a blue or black pen to complete a survey. His work is changing the way we see the process of decision making.

2.  Emotional facility is the utilization of our emotions and has four components.  

IN:  This is our ability to be in touch with our emotions, to identify them and to allow ourselves to be impacted by our experiences.  

OUT:  This is our ability to outwardly express our emotions and to do so in an appropriate way.  

UP:  This is our ability to up-regulate our emotions- to cultivate excitement.

Down: This is our ability to down-regulate our emotions - to self-soothe and calm ourselves.

3.  There are incredible benefits to having a high social emotional intelligence, for both adults and children.  

A few for adults: more successful career trajectory, increase in promotions and pay raises, better network of support, ability to be more productive, increase in relationship satisfaction, stronger immune systems.

A few for children: higher confidence, improved focus, decreased aggression, increased ability to self-soothe and self-regulate.

Take a moment to cultivate your social emotional intelligence by checking in with yourself and doing a quick scan of how you are feeling. Can you identify an emotion (fear, hurt, sadness, anger, joy, etc.)? Are you able to understand where it came from and the impact it is having on you? If this exercise proves somewhat challenging, perhaps you can make it a part of your daily routine and begin to build up your emotional IQ. Just like any other skill, increasing your emotional intelligence takes practice!

Learn more about Antonio Damasio’s work and watch a brief video of his work.

Learn more about The Wright Foundation and their work with Social and Emotional Intelligence.

Gain more information about Fusion Academy. 

A Case to be (a little more) Selfish

 By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

The word selfish has such a negative connotation. From a young age, we are taught not to be ‘selfish’ – we are taught to share, to be generous, to even sometimes put others’ needs before our own. While all of these lessons remain important, and are a part of the recipe for harmonious and reciprocal relationships, I have to ask: have we taken it too far? Have we gotten stuck in a cycle of putting everyone and everything before ourselves?

Recently, I’ve been hearing more and more from clients, family, and friends just how exhausted they are. Exhausted by their work, by their social calendars, and by the expectations they’ve put upon themselves to be stellar employees, parents, friends, and partners. We’ve put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to show up in these roles, and while I absolutely believe these efforts are meaningful and worthwhile, how long before we are trying to pour from an empty cup?

When I suggest to my clients that perhaps they need to focus a bit more on themselves, it is often met with resistance; “but, I have no time” or, “I know it’s bad, but this is just a difficult time of year” or, “I honestly have no idea what that would even look like.” I would be lying if I said I couldn’t identify with every one of those excuses, because they are true! We do have a litany of obligations; we do have friends and family depending on us; we do have impossible work schedules that make the idea of a regular exercise routine seemingly comical. And yet, I wonder, how far are we willing to push ourselves? And, more importantly, to what cost?

How can we be the stellar employees, friends, parents and partners we strive to be if we are running on fumes? How on earth can we respond to each other with compassion and patience when our reserves are diminished? I like to think about an electrical outlet – envision the many things plugging into you for energy: your families, your job, your home, even, maybe your pet… but what do you plug into? What is your energy source (and how often are you using it)?

Organizational psychologist and author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, Bob Rosen states: “When you take care of yourself first, you show up as a healthy, grounded person in life…If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t care for others. Being selfish is critical.” So, while perhaps an unpopular perspective – maybe we can encourage ourselves to be a little more selfish, not only as a necessity for our own well-being, but also as a service to those we love most.

Here are a few ideas and exercises to think about on this topic:

  • Write down 20 things that you love to do. No specific order, no right or wrong answers, just jot down 20 things that make you happy. (For example, reading a novel, taking a yoga class, traveling internationally, having dinner with friends, exploring new neighborhoods, walking the dog, etc.) Then, write next to each item, when the last time you actually did that activity (days/weeks/months/years). It can be a glaring exercise to realize that we haven’t engaged in activities that bring us joy in months or even years. [Activity adapted from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron]                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • What can you say ‘NO’ to this week, (or this month)? Sometimes things that are supposed to bring us joy – like seeing friends, or going out for dinners etc., bring us more stress than we realize. We are so accustomed to saying ‘yes!’ to invitations and expectations, but what if we chose just one thing and said no rather than yes. Barricade yourself at home for the evening, (or in a happy, relaxing place) and play hooky.                                                                                                               
  • Engage in service. This might seem counterintuitive – but if you have ever spent time sitting with someone who is ill, or serving food in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an animal shelter, you know – there are few things more energizing than giving back to those who truly need your help. Not only is giving back good for our communities, but it is good for our spirit. You can search for volunteer opportunities at chicagocares.org.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Take 10 minutes for yourself. Whether it is walking to get yourself a coffee in the middle of the work day, or setting your alarm a bit earlier to sit quietly or stretch first thing – this tiny exercise in slowing down, can help us towards a more mindful reset.                                                                 
  • Plan something indulgent. While we can’t necessarily treat ourselves to a getaway or a massage every day, or even every month – there is research that suggests that the ‘build up’ and excitement for planning a trip is even more enjoyable than the trip itself. So, maybe begin to plan that trip you’ve wanted to take; savor the entire process. [Source]

How To Better Cope (And Help) In Today’s Climate Of Tragedy And Fear

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

In the wake of Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas, we are reminded (again) of the fragility of life and the senseless acts of hatred and violence that plague our country and our world. It feels overwhelming to wrap our heads around another tragedy, especially just on the heels of the devastation in Texas, Mexico City and Puerto Rico (and beyond). Between these catastrophic natural disasters and terrifying acts of terrorism, we are living in a climate of fear that can wreak havoc on our emotional wellness and mental health.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations for how we can better navigate this difficult time:

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS

It may feel like the only option right now is to push through and ignore your thoughts and reactions to recent events. Often, when we ignore our feelings, they get worse, or they can manifest elsewhere in our lives.

Take stock of how you are feeling; it may be easy to identify the emotions you’re experiencing, but it may also be really difficult. It is common to experience multiple feelings at once, a constant switch between emotions, and even an overall sense of numbness. There is great power in naming our emotions – once we have a name for them, we can identify them more readily when they surface and then we can more calmly and better manage our symptoms.

If you have experienced a trauma or loss in your life, this news might be especially triggering for you. There is a particularly higher risk of feeling a sense of despair, helplessness, anger and grief– even if this event is in no way connected to your own experience. (There are links to both the disaster distress hotline and crisis hotline at the bottom of this post, should you need them.)

Other symptoms you may be experiencing around this event are increased irritability, loss of sleep, reduction in appetite and loss of focus. Pay attention to yourself and your body – if these are happening to you, it is your body’s way of saying you may need to seek professional help, and take some time to take care of yourself.

MANAGE YOUR MEDIA INTAKE

Many of us may feel guilty turning off the news, or choosing not to watch the footage of the most recent shooting. We may feel obligated to stay informed and force ourselves to see what is happening; in doing so, we hope to increase our understanding of the situation and our compassion for those who were affected. While I think it is a worthy effort to remain engaged and continue practicing empathy for those who are suffering, overdoing this media exposure can lead to increased anxiety, traumatization, and even a re-triggering experience.

Limit your media; tune in occasionally in order to stay engaged and informed, but do not feel bad turning off your twitter feed or closing your computer for some time. You are not disengaged or unfeeling if you decide not to watch this footage; (there are plenty of ways to remain engaged without exposure to such horrific visuals.) It is imperative to create boundaries to protect your mental health and to respect your own limitations.

(I so appreciate these wise words on consuming media, from Brené Brown.)

EMBRACE CONNECTION

Reach out to friends and family. We are creatures of connection – and in times of threat and despair, we sometimes need to embrace our inner ‘pack animal.’ No, you do not need to talk about the event if that feels un-welcomed – but you can share your feelings, share good news and continue to focus on joy. Remember, joy is an act of resistance, especially in the face of hatred.

Additionally, if you know someone who may not have family or friends nearby, reach out to them: invite them for coffee or have them over for dinner. Even something as simple as a text to tell someone you are thinking of them and hoping they are ok, means more to them than you realize. No one should have to feel alone during such a scary and uncertain time.

HELP OTHERS

Helping others counteracts the stress hormones in our bodies. There are countless ways to help and they do not necessarily have to be related to the shooting in Las Vegas. You can donate to relief efforts in Houston, Mexico City and Puerto Rico.

Donate to the Red Cross and Other amazing relief organizations to consider

You can turn towards your local community and find a volunteer opportunity nearby. Connecting and helping in person may feel especially rewarding.

If you’re in Chicago, this is a great resource: https://www.chicagocares.org/

If you are feeling compelled to turn your attention towards gun reform you can check out these organizations to see how you can become involved:

      -  The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: https://www.csgv.org/

      -  Every Town for Gun Safety: https://everytown.org/

      -  Moms Demand Action: https://momsdemandaction.org/

And of course, you can contact your representatives to tell them your feelings about passing comprehensive and common sense gun reform in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy.

       -  Here is a useful script to help guide your words and guide for reaching outI’ve used the ‘ResistBot’ and found it to be an unbelievably                easy and fast way to contact mySenators and Congressmen about issues I care about. Text RESIST to 50409.

Additional Resources & Articles:

Disaster Distress Hotline:  1-800-985-5990 – Text: TalkWithUS to 66746 – Website

Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 - Website

Psychology Today

Huff Post Blog

Mashable

 By Karen Focht MA, LMFT

BY Karen Focht MA, LMFT

Throughout my career I have found the challenge of infertility to come up over and over again while working with couples. 10-15 percent of couples in the US are touched by infertility in some way.  After attempting to conceive for a year, a couple can quickly find themselves thrown into the world of infertility and treatment.  Although there are many various treatment options available today, infertility can be a very lonely place.  I often found myself advocating for clients through resources, education and support through family and friends.  Although these are all very helpful and important forms of support, there was something missing.  This is where Shine comes into play. 

Shine is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing unique support to women who are faced with fertility challenges. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Shine’s founder, Katie O’Connor, who shared her own journey within the fertility world.  Something that quickly stood out through our conversation was that the statistics are staggering and yet women aren’t talking about what is happening through their fertility struggles.   Through this realization, Shine was born.  Here are some details on what Shine is all about!

Fertility Friends Mentorship Program:  Through one to one support, the mentorship program matches a new member with someone who has successfully completed their fertility journey.  This is an opportunity to share your journey and challenges with a mentor who can closely relate to the experience.  Receiving empathy and understanding can make a tremendous difference throughout the overall experience. 

SHINE TOGETHER PROGRAMS:

In Person Support Meeting:  These meetings provide peer support, open discussion along with the opportunity to hear from a professional guest speaker.  “The goal is to create a community that allows us to laugh and cry, side by side, while celebrating our successes and battling our challenges, as well as providing knowledge to feel empowered throughout our journeys”.           **Meetings are held on a monthly basis

Virtual Support Call:  This is a group support phone call where members connect and share their fertility journey in a confidential format.                                                                                                                                                                                                  **Held on the last Wednesday of the month at 8pm CST.

Shine Social:  This fun event is an opportunity to learn more about Shine along with giving back in order to help continue the organizations mission and success.  Details can be found at www.eventbrite.com/e/shine-social-tickets-37693411007

For more information please visit http://www.shinefertility.org

Keep Calm and Fight Fair

BY CAITLIN NELSON, AMFT

 

Every couple will experience conflict in their relationship, no matter how happy they are together. Research done by John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that 69% of conflict in relationships is about unresolvable, perpetual problems based on differences between partners (Gottman). They also found that stable couples experience 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction, while that ratio for unstable couples is 0.8:1. So what does this information tell us about conflict in relationships? Simply put, conflict is inevitable and manageable. So let’s learn how to manage it!

Step one to learning how to manage conflict is identifying that you are angry. Often before we can even recognize that we are angry, our bodies already know. Our heart is beating faster, our thoughts are racing, our muscles are tense, our faces are red - we are physiologically activated. Pay attention to these sensations, as they are your body letting you know you’ve reached your emotional threshold. Aka your point of no return.

Once you are able to identify that you are angry, it’s time to learn how to calm yourself back down. Why? Because reaching your emotional threshold puts you on auto-pilot, meaning you lose your ability to choose your reaction to your partner. This means that any chance of having a productive conversation is lost. If you want to hear and be heard, you need to come back to a calm state. You can do this by taking a few good deep breaths or by taking a walk (if leaving is agreed to be non-threatening by both partners).

Once you have gotten yourself feeling a little calmer, it’s time for some self-reflection. Try and identify what caused your anger. Were you feeling misunderstood, judged, blamed, hurt? These are the feelings to share with your partner. It’s easier to connect when we share softer emotions, rather than our harsh anger. In order to share those softer emotions with your partner, you need to agree upon a time and place to try again. Check in about a good time to revisit the conversation. Lastly, remind yourself that you and your partner are on a team, that there are positives to your partner and your relationship with them. This will help you soften more towards your partner, rather than revamping your side of the argument.

Ok, so now you’re calm and you’ve established a time to try again. Here are a few things to try when sharing your perspective with your partner.

 DO use “I-Statements.” These are statements that share your feelings in a non-accusatory way and propose a solution. They are the opposite of “you-statements,” which place our partner on the defense and assign blame.

You-statement : “You are always so inconsiderate! Why can’t you just come home when you say you will?!”

I-Statement : I feel anxious when I haven’t heard from you when you’re out. Could we set up a check-in system?

DON’T assassinate your partner’s character. This escalates the conflict and gets you farther away from sharing your perspective and working towards resolution.

DON’T call your partner names. This escalates the conflict and puts your partner on the defensive.

DON’T use the words always or never. This derails the conversation and allows more opportunity for further debate.

DO continue taking deep breaths throughout the conversation. This keeps you in control of your reactions and further away from your emotional threshold.

If you can begin implementing some of these tactics, your ability to manage conflict within your relationship will continue to become more and more effective, and easier to do consistently.

 

 

Grief & Resilience

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

Grieving is a universal action, one that we embody as the result of a loss. Humans all over the world grieve through different customs, ceremonies and traditions (TED Ideas). We’ve even learned that certain animals grieve when they’ve loss a member of their family or pack (BBC).

Most commonly when we speak about grief, we are referring to the death of a person; yet, I have found that we grieve when there is loss. That loss may be a person, but it could also be the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of our health, or the realization that our dreams and wishes for our future can no longer be reached.

I recently read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. Sandberg, most notably known as the COO of Facebook, tragically lost her husband in 2015. She, with the help of psychologist Adam Grant, share a very personal lens into her grief story and process of recovery. They examine the impact of loss (in its many forms) on depression, resilience and growth.

“We cannot control what happens to us, but, we do have some influence over how we respond to the events and hardships in our lives” – Adam Grant

If you or a loved one has experienced a loss, or are even curious about this topic – I highly recommend this book. It is not only a king of memoir, but also a collection of stories from resilient people around the world, and a self-help platform with the latest research from psychologists in the field.

In the meantime, here are 3 of my favorites takeaways from Option B:

1)    Grant present Martin Seligman’s theory of the Three Ps, which can help determine our ability to deal with ‘setbacks’ in our lives

  • Personalization: “This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us”
  • Permanence: “refers to whether you see negative experiences as global or specific, or as Sandberg says, whether "an event will affect all areas of your life."
  • Pervasiveness: “explains whether you see an event as stable or unstable, or how long you think the negative feelings will last.”

Sandberg describes this idea as our brain’s psychological immune system – we can heal and recover, but sometimes we need steps to kick into gear. Noticing when we feel one (or more) of the three Ps can be a helpful first step to challenging our mindset around grief, or feelings of ‘stuckness.’

2)    Self confidence and self compassion

Sandberg shared how after the death of her husband, she felt her self-confidence plummet; she was apologizing to everyone around her at home and work. She felt guilty – that everything was her fault. One of the most important components of recovery is self-compassion.

Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as: approaching yourself with the same kindness you would show to a friend.

Sandberg felt that her internal experience (where she was falling apart) matched how she presented herself to the rest of the world. Adam Grant suggested that before bed, she write down three things she did well that day. It may take some time, but focusing on ‘small wins’ builds confidence.

3)    Its important to talk about loss and hardship

We have a really hard time talking about loss and adversity. Even if it is on our mind – we may not say anything to that friend whose parent is sick, or to someone we know is dealing with the loss of a job, or a recent death in his or her family. We’re scared to say the wrong thing, or perhaps we fear that by bringing it up, we’ll be ruining that person’s day. (Psychologists coined a term for this, called The Mum Effect.)

Sandberg talked about the feeling of isolation she experienced after she lost her husband. She would be amongst friends or coworkers and while she knew everyone knew what she was going through, they never said anything. It became the elephant in the room that fueled her sense of isolation and despair.

Just ask; if you know someone is going through a difficult period, ask him or her: “how are you, today?” This acknowledges that every day is different, and some days may be better than others. It is simple and it may give the person who is grieving the opportunity they have wanted (or needed), to share.

If you are interested in learning more about Option B, and/or lessons about grief, resilience and growth, Sandberg and Grant have created a platform to explore these themes and hear stories from real people who have overcome unbelievable hardship and adversity.

https://optionb.org/

 

A Season of Transition

 By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

As I sit here at the office during my first week back from maternity leave I can’t help but reflect on life transition and what this can entail.  These days there seems to be so much expected from us in life such as family, work, and even self-care. I personally find it easy to rush through transitions and new stages in life with little time focused on reflection.  Life demands can easily take over and leave us feeling turned upside-down when a new season of life is upon us. 

As I approached the end of my maternity leave with my sweet baby boy, friends, family, and colleagues often asked me if I was ready for this time to end.  What I quickly realized was that although I was ready to come back to work, I had spent little time reflecting on this transition.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I had already done this once over 5 years ago.  I should have this down!  When I started researching the topic of transition I completely resonated with what I came across.  This includes allowing for realistic timeframes and expectations, accessing a supportive environment during a time of change, creating a new routine and allowing for self-expression. Sometimes we just need to let go of what was in order to truly embrace what is today.  This is something I am now focused on more than ever as I settle back into seeking a work/life balance.  Here are some articles I found to be helpful through my process of transition!

Keys to Handling Life’s Transitions

Understanding Transition Stress

How to Cope with Transition and Change

How To Cope With Divorce

BY SASHA TASKIER, AMFT


I was recently invited to collaborate on an expert panel and share some insights on how to cope with divorce. Here are my thoughts:

It's time to give yourself a giant dose of self-compassion.

You are not going to be your best self at moments and you are weathering a transition that may force you to re-examine so many aspects of your life. Simple things, like your daily routine, can be torn down and much of this process necessitates a new approach.

So, be gentle.

Be forgiving of yourself and others. You are doing the best you can, with the tools you have that day.

The people in your life may know what you're going through, but they aren't inside your head. They might be insensitive at times, and you might feel let down - but, chances are, they are trying to help in the ways they know how.

Just like there is no road map for you, there is no road map for them either.

Seek support - whether through family, friends, or a professional therapist.

It's ok to ask for help, to say, "I feel like a mess today" or "I'm having a really hard time with (insert activity.)" (Another topic to consider is if your children also need support - and how to provide that at a time you are not at your best.)

Savor moments that you feel good, because they might feel rare (for a period of time.)

Take a dance class, go to the movies, have a night with friends, or if you can, treat yourself to a weekend away.

Mostly, remember that these feelings are temporary.

It will get better, and with time and patience, you will begin to feel like yourself again. In the meantime, treat yourself like you would treat your best friend who is going through a difficult time.

You can read the full article here: How to Cope with Divorce

The Right Way to Say You're Wrong

 By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

Saying “I’m sorry” seems so simple and yet, it doesn’t always feel that way. More often than not, it is connected to immense difficulty and feelings of dread. It is much easier for us to justify why we don’t need to apologize, why the other person is at fault, and why we should actually be the one receiving the apology. The problem with this mindset is that it leaves no room for personal accountability, which is a necessity for engaging in a meaningful relationship. Genuine apologies offer reconciliation and reconnection after a hurt has impacted the relationship. Our ability to take ownership of how we have hurt someone and offer an apology addressing that hurt, without needing to justify our behavior, allows us to truly repair our relationships. Now, how can we make sure we are doing that?

In Harriet Lerner’s new book, “Why Won’t You Apologize,” she goes into great detail about the do’s and don’ts of a genuine apology. There are many ways we can mess up an apology, even when we are truly trying. Lerner explains them as follows:

1.     Using the word “but”

This is a very common add-on and while it attempts to explain our behavior and why it makes sense given the situation, it also completely negates our apology.

Example: I’m sorry I was rude, but you weren’t listening to me.

Try Instead: I’m sorry I was rude. That was uncalled for and I will be more respectful next time.

2.     Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”

This pseudo-apology shifts the focus from your actions to the other person’s response. It is not taking accountability for your part in the interaction, and places the blame on the other person.

Example: I’m sorry you felt embarrassed when I pointed out your mistake at the party.

Try Instead: I’m sorry I pointed out your mistake at the party. That was not thoughtful of me and I won’t do it again.

3.     Saying, “I’m sorry if…”

The word “if” implies the other person needs to rethink their response and can often seem condescending. It again skirts away from taking responsibility for our actions.

Example: I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.

Try Instead: What I said was offensive. I’m sorry I was insensitive and I will be more mindful moving forward.

4.     Confusing what needs to be apologized for

This is a common occurrence in relationships where people are held responsible for the other person’s feelings and behaviors, rather than their own.

Example: I’m sorry for giving you a headache.

Try Instead: I’m sorry for not turning down the TV when I knew you had a headache.

5.     Asking for forgiveness too soon

Often when we work up the nerve to apologize, we feel the need to know that we are forgiven. This is a normal feeling. We want to know that the relationship has been restored. But when we ask for forgiveness too soon after an apology, we take away the space for the other person to fully process our apology, as well as the emotional hurt they are experiencing. This can make the other person feel rushed and sometimes even hurt again.

Example: I’m sorry I made a decision about our finances without including you. I know we’ve talked about that before. Forgive me?

Try Instead: I’m sorry I made a decision about our finances without including you. I know when I do that I hurt you and we’ve talked about that before. I understand if it takes some time for you to not be upset with me anymore. Let me know if there is anything I can do.

6.     Being intrusive with our need to apologize

This is when we continue trying to apologize before the other person is ready to hear from us. It often occurs with bigger betrayals and involves the hurt person drawing clear boundaries around no further communication. When we become intrusive with apologizing, we place our need to soothe our own anxiety about hurting someone above actually soothing the person we hurt.

Example: I know you said you didn’t want to talk to me anymore, but I need to know we’re ok; I’m sorry.

Try Instead: Not apologizing after the other person has made it clear they are not ready to communicate.

Lerner reminds us that an apology is us taking responsibility for our actions and soothing the other person’s hurt. It is not the time to discuss our grievances or make it about our pain. There will always be another time to bring those topics up. She challenges us to truly listen to someone when they bring us their pain, even when faced with things that are hard to hear. To do this, she recommends recognizing our defensiveness, soothing ourselves with deep breathing, asking questions when we don’t understand, refraining from debating facts and letting the hurt party know we hear them.

Lerner emphasizes the importance of truly listening to someone, as an apology will not be as effective if we haven’t understood the pain we have caused. Lerner also challenges us to accept the olive branch that is an apology when we have been the ones hurt. A genuine apology is a bid for connection, and when executed well and received well, it begins the healing process necessary to strengthen relationships.

Try to become more aware of how you apologize and where you need to tweak. My guess is, the better you become at apologizing, the more likely you will begin receiving genuine apologies in return, further cultivating positive change in your relationship.