Domestic Violence: The Signs, Escalation, and Realization

By Rachel Miller, M.A., AMFT

By Rachel Miller, M.A., AMFT

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Department of Justice in 2016 defined intimate partner violence (IPV), more commonly known as domestic violence, as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  It can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

You’re pretty sure you’d recognize that if it was happening to you, aren’t you? You feel secure in your belief that you would know if it was happening to someone you care about too, don’t you? Unfortunately, that does not often prove true.

IPV rarely starts with a punch in the gut, a slap to the face, a commandeering of your financial resources, or a partner screaming obscenities at you in private. Like most relationships, abusive ones begin with a courtship. A new partner woos you, showers you with attention, affection, gifts, fabulous dates, maybe all the above. You have deep, connecting conversations. It feels like you’ve known each other forever. You fall in love. You begin to plan a future with this person. Maybe you move in together or get married. Things are good. You’re happy.

Along the way small things don’t sit well with you but no one is perfect, right? You can’t expect her to like all your friends or get along with everyone in your family. All couples fight, don’t they? It’s sweet he wants you to spend all your time with him. They’re only thinking of your safety when they constantly ask where you’re going, where you’ve been, and want you to share your location. His jealousy is kind of endearing, isn’t it? It shows how much he cares. You’re fine sharing all your passwords with her. You don’t have anything to hide. Their critiques and criticisms are just their way of trying to help you become the best version of yourself.      

You don’t see family and friends as much these days. Those nasty things he said were “just jokes” or maybe you really were being “too sensitive.” She has trouble managing her temper, but lots of people do. She always apologizes. When did you start spending so much of your day walking on eggshells trying to manage his emotions, prevent a fight, or avoid the barrage of criticisms? Why can’t they just be at home the way they are when you’re out with friends? It’s like living with two different people.

But it’s not all bad. You have good times too. And you really love the fun, kind, loving, generous side of him. Vacation this year was amazing. She was so supportive when your dad passed. You had a fun date night last week. He was wonderful when you lost your job. She’s a great mom. He does so much for the community. You have an incredible life on the outside. Maybe you shouldn’t complain, it could be worse. Maybe you just need to go to couples therapy to work through some of these issues because you truly love each other.

As more time passes you start to wonder if you’re losing your mind. Things you know happened, things you said or heard are denied with such conviction you doubt your own memory. Is this gaslighting? No, it can’t be. Gaslighting is abuse, isn’t it? You’re not being abused. You’d know if you were being abused. He doesn’t hit you. You’re a man. Would people even believe you if you said your wife was abusing you? You still go to work, see friends, spend time with family. You’re not isolated. It can’t be abuse. You’re gay. IPV doesn’t happen in non-hetero relationships, does it? You’re a strong, educated, successful person. People like you don’t end up in abusive relationship, do they?

An abusive relationship can escalate quickly, or the abuse can intensify over years. The tactics can be overt, or subversive and coercive in nature. When you’re in it, you rarely see the patterns of the violence or the power and control being wielded. Think of the frog in placed in cold water who never realizes he’s being boiled to death as the temperature is slowly turned up. As much as we want to believe we would recognize an abusive relationship if we were in it and we’d leave the minute we realized it, the research and statistics indicate these are not true.

Domestic violence does not care about your gender, age, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, or level of education. It does not discriminate. It impacts all of us. October is the perfect time to educate yourself on not only the signs of an abusive relationship, but also the hallmarks of a healthy one. Society, the media, and abusers perpetuate many myths about domestic violence. Take this opportunity to determine how many of these you have taken as truth. Learn how you can help those you know and love who are being abused. This is also a good time to sit with the idea that if you know someone who is being abused, and since according to statistics 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men experience IPV you clearly do, you also know someone who abuses. We all have a responsibility to hold abusers accountable as well as believe and support victims and survivors.

If any of the scenarios presented above resonate or feel familiar, help is available.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Between Friends Chicago

Arab American Family Services

KAN-WIN

Center on Halsted

Other Chicagoland resource can be found here.

If you are recovering from an abusive relationship, therapy can help. Contact our office today.

How to Better Cope, Help, and Balance Your Needs in Our Political/Environmental/Emotional World

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

As of September 1st, 2019, “which was the 244th day of the year, there have been 283 mass shootings in the U.S.” (source); we have experienced more shootings than days. As I type this, Hurricane Dorian is barreling its way across the Bahamas and towards the southeastern coast of the United States and families are still being separated at our borders and within our country. 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.

I know I have struggled to navigate my own feelings on these topics and the state of our political and environmental climate, but it comes up in my therapy sessions on an almost daily basis. I have cried with parents who cannot fathom the idea of their child being taken away from them and I have empathized with parents who are scared to send their kids to school or let their teenagers go to outdoor concerts for fear of yet another mass shooting. People are trying to understand how they can be more mindful of the environment and how that can impact some of their most intimate choices (like, should we have children if we do not know what the planet will look like in the next 50 years?).

Most of us are trying to understand how to live our normal, daily lives while we simultaneously fear for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. It is taking an emotional toll, and it’s creating a spike in our collective anxiety.

Here are some topics to consider on the subject:

Media Intake

Limit your media; Either tune in occasionally in order to stay engaged and informed, or curate your intake very intentionally (ie. choose one podcast, or one newspaper), but do not feel bad turning off your twitter feed, turning off the news or closing your computer for some time. You are not disengaged or unfeeling if you decide not to watch violent footage, or become inundated with negative news cycles. It is imperative to create boundaries to protect your mental health and to respect your own limitations.

Meaningful tips on media consumption, from Brené Brown.

Seek Support

If you notice a rise in your fear and anxiety, or you’re struggling to manage your emotions as these tragic events continue to unfold, it might be worthwhile to seek some additional support. You can search for a therapist by zip code and/or specialty through Psychology Today.

Collective Healing

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.’ Put down your phone, and spend time with your people IRL; presence can be healing. 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.

Get Involved

There is nothing worse than the feeling of helplessness that follow these horrific events; No, we cannot change what has taken place, but there is enormous healing in engagement and collective action. You can turn towards your local community and find a volunteer opportunity nearby. Connecting and helping in person may feel especially rewarding.

If you are feeling compelled to turn your attention towards gun reform, these organizations have opportunities both to donate and volunteer. There are numerous events and meetings around Chicagoland - just search below:

Red Cross - you can donate directly to those who have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian

[Unfortunately, I felt inclined to write a similar blog post almost two years ago after the Las Vegas shooting, which occurred right on the heels of a shooting in Texas, and the horrific earthquake in Mexico City. You can read my thoughts and many recycled tips from October 2017, here]

The Both/And Perspective

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By Michaela Choy, AMFT

What is the both/and perspective? It’s the ability to hold seemingly opposing ideas or many concepts at once. It can feel unnatural to think this way. Our brains like a clear story (as Brené Brown discusses in her talk: The Call to Courage). We like to know what’s good or bad and what’s right or wrong (Restrepo, 2019). This creates a false sense of reality because it’s not the full story. Our human experiences are far more complex. In my work as a therapist, I’ve witnessed heartbreak in the same moment as deep connection, and I’ve seen moments of anger alongside compassion. It’s more accurate to hold the both/and perspective, and it’s far more connecting.

Think of areas in your life where the temptation to categorize in an either/or way come up for you. Some obvious examples are politics, friendships, and how we reflect on our days. If we disagree with someone’s political views, we are quick to categorize them as bad people when perhaps they are well-meaning people who have hard views (this is particularly challenging to shift into today). If you are hurt by a close friend, you may be quick to label them as careless and hurtful, when perhaps they did hurt you and are also a loving and loyal presence in your life. If you made a mistake at work and have a difficult day, you may characterize the day as disastrous. Consider, however, in the same day, good moments where your coworkers rallied around you, your boss showed compassion, and other moments where you had small successes. It’s more accurate to say you had a hard day AND good moments peppered into it.

If you find yourself using an either/or mindset, attempt to pause and challenge yourself. Is this person wholly evil? Was my day all bad? Shifting into the both/and perspective opens the door for connection, understanding, and compassion towards your experiences and people in your life. You can honor your true experience and make space for more information in the story.

Below are some areas I suggest practicing your both/and lens.

- Politics

- Holiday experiences

- Moments with family or friends

- Work days

- Reflection on past romantic partnerships

- Race (For all – especially multiracial people. See this talk for more perspective and information.)

- Gender (see the genderbread person for more information)


Resources:

Killerman, S. (2017). Breaking through the binary: gender explained using continuums. Retrieved from: https://www.genderbread.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Breaking-through-the-Binary-by-Sam-Killermann.pdf

Meraji, S., & Demby, G. (2017, June). Racial imposter syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/06/08/462395722/racial-impostor-syndrome-here-are-your-stories

Restrepo, Sandra. (2019). The Call to Courage. United States: Netflix

3 Common Relationship Myths to Unsubscribe From

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

1.     Never go to bed angry

While the intention behind this belief is positive, the application of it can actually cause some conflict to escalate. When we are tired, we become more irritable and quick to anger. Often times sleep is all that is needed to calm yourself down and regulate your emotions. Next time you are arguing before bed, agree to set it aside and try again in the morning. Remind yourself that the relationship is ok even though there is conflict. A helpful way to acknowledge this is to find some way to still say “I love you” or “I still care about you even though we are fighting” before going to bed. You may find that after getting some sleep you are less upset the next morning and better able to have the conversation.

 

2.     If they cared, they would know what I need/feel

Your partner is not a mind reader, and neither are you. The only way for your partner to know exactly what you need, or are feeling, is for you to tell them! We are each responsible for our own emotions, and for communicating those emotions and needs to our partner. If you need more physical touch in the relationship, ask for it. If you are stressed out and need a break from the kids, ask for it. If you are feeling sad and need some one-on-one time with your partner ask for it. Your partner cannot give you what you need if you do not tell them what that need is.

 

3.     If it’s meant to be, it should be easy

Relationships are hard work! Our society has ingrained in us that love is easy and conquers all. This has done us a huge disservice in our understanding of a healthy relationship and our ability to have a healthy relationship. We have to put work and effort into most things in our lives - careers, kids, working out, eating healthy, financial planning, etc - so why would relationships be any different? Try thinking about relationships as one of the most important investments in your life (we are social creatures and all need to be in relation with others) and begin valuing the work you put into them, instead of resenting it.

What is your relationship to your screen(s)? And how does it show up in your relationships?

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

There may be hours throughout the day when I haven’t looked at my phone, and haven’t even picked it up from my night table the evening before. But there are certainly many (many) other moments when I find myself mindlessly scrolling, using my phone for one thing (like, checking the weather) only to find myself texting, or on Instagram, and completely forgetting to check if it is actually going to rain. Perhaps worse, my partner or my child will be talking to me, needing my undivided presence and attention, and I will be distracted by my phone. I will readily admit that my relationship with my screens, isn’t where I’d like it to be, nor is it what I want to be modeling as a parent.

I know I am not alone in this quest. Almost every client (or friend, or family member) I talk to about their phone use, will readily admit that they use their phone too much. That social media brings depression and anxiety to their lives yet they can’t find a way to stop. For many of us, our phones are the last thing we look at before bed, and the first thing we look at when we wake up. And it is making an impact on us, and our relationships.

A few thoughts for those of us who may be wanting a reset button on our screens:

  • Designate a few times a day when you do not have your phone out. Perhaps this is during your morning routine, as you make coffee and prepare for the day. I would highly recommend tech-free meals - which creates an opportunity to have a more mindful eating experience, but also, to connect with your colleagues during lunch time (or quietly by yourself!) and your loved ones at the end of the day.

  • Utilize your screen time app. Apple came out with the capacity for us to better track our phone usage. You can set app limits (I try to do only 30 minutes on social media a day!) There is a “downtime” option, which allows you to go semi-dark from your calls and apps. Overall, it’s helpful to see how much time you are on your phone. The number might be absolutely shocking, and can be a great starting place to reassess your usage. Some tips on how to do this effectively, here.

  • How much do you talk to your partner during the day? Many of us are in constant contact with our partners and friends throughout the day. Whether that is texting, Instagram messaging, Snap chatting etc. Try limiting your contact throughout the day, and make the moment when you get home from work an opportunity to actually hear about your partner’s day. It’s easy to tune out if you have already heard everything through text in a play by play starting at 9 am. Make the end of day reunion a meaningful opportunity to connect, tech-free.

  • Make a tech-free date night. The majority of the couples I work with talk about increasing intimacy, connection, and communication as their main goals. One of the go-to interventions is date night. But, if date night is spent with one or both partners on their phones, or constantly being pulled out of the IRL conversation to respond to a text or a call elsewhere, our ability to open up, become more vulnerable and intimate is hampered. Turn your phone on silent, put it away and look at each other.

A few other articles on the topic:

How Your Smartphone Might Sabotage Your Relationship

Tips for Parents to Put Away their Phones

Screen Time is Sabotaging Our Relationships

Does Screen Time Mess Up our Relationships?

Using a Time Out

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

Conflict is an inevitable part of being in relationship. It can be productive, but it can also be hurtful. When conflict becomes reactive and explosive, we need to find ways of calming down in order to prevent further damage. During these times, our brains respond by initiating a fight, flight, or freeze response. When this gets activated, we are no longer in the conversation to connect and understand our partner, but we are attempting to survive and defend using any means possible. This is very dangerous territory for relationships. When this occurs, consider taking a time out (Fishbane, 2013).

To be effective, time outs must be used with intention. It’s recommended that couples discuss guidelines before using this tool. This helps partners develop a sense of safety during their time apart and know exactly what to expect. Here are some great guidelines to consider.

  1. Call a time out with tact. Saying that you need time apart with a hard tone, exaggerated volume, or nasty non-verbal cues will only make things worse. Take a deep breath and speak as calmly as possible. Some suggested phrases are:

    “Hey, I think I need some time to cool down before we talk about this more, let’s take a time out.”

    “I want to talk about this more, but I need a break. Let’s take a time out.”

  2. Agree upon the amount of time that you will spend apart. Research shows that when your emotions are escalated, it takes 20 minutes at minimum to cool off. Your time out should be no shorter than 20 minutes. 30 minutes is my recommendation to couples (Fishbane, 2013).

  3. Use time apart intentionally. If you use this time to ruminate on your anger and allow your hard feelings to grow, entering back into a conversation with your partner will cause damage. Take a walk, practice deep breathing, or find alternative ways of soothing yourself. Only when you are calm should you reengage.

  4. Decide who will initiate the conversation again. I recommend that the partner that calls the time out is the partner that initiates the conversation again.

Using this tool can help us reach a place where we can find connection during disagreements versus fighting with reactivity. When done well, you can increase your chances of resolving hard conversations without further hurting your partner.

Resources:

Fishbane, M. D. (2013). Loving with the Brain in Mind: Neurobiology and Couple Therapy (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of setting some time aside with your partner and/or future co-parent to discuss some of the topics that might be helpful to connect over and learn both how you are feeling and thinking about the topic, as well as your partner/co-parent. It is often surprising what can come out of these conversations, and it is always helpful to learn about your partner’s hopes, assumptions and fears prior to the moment you are faced with a difficult decision or conversation. 

Part 2 is perhaps a little less sexy, but just as important! The topics of discussion in this post are Finances, Maternity & Paternity leave/ Family Leave and the transition to Childcare. Again, the point of these conversations is not to set anything in stone, but to begin to understand your own thoughts and feelings around these topics, and to better understand your partners’ as well. With a deeper, more clear understanding of your wishes and goals in these areas, you can begin to plan and make decisions with greater intention.

 

Finances

This is a tricky topic because of course, every family has different budgets and financial capabilities and constraints. Decisions around building a family and all that entails, require thoughtful financial consideration; many choices are measured by both priority and financial constraints. A few things to think about and discuss:

-       What does our current family budget look like, and how do we expect it to change?

-       For couples that currently keep separate accounts, and put their shared expenses into a joint account or credit card, how do you hope to divvy up these new financial responsibilities?

-       Have we budgeted for our hospital stay? (despite those lucky few with fantastic insurance, you will likely be required to pay a significant hospital bill at the end of your stay.)

-       It may be helpful to a) talk with your healthcare provider to understand what hospital you will be delivering at and b) connect with your insurance provider to understand a potential range (it will vary for every birth due to length of stay/ procedures done, etc.)

-       Have we created a fund to help us buffer the transition between a two person home and three person home?

-       If one parent decides to stay home with baby, what will that look like for our budget and how do we navigate this shift in roles? (this deserves its very own post!)

-       Are there people in our lives who may have recently gone through this transition? Can we talk to them about their financial experience and things to be mindful of?

-       What are our expectations of ourselves and our partners financially as we transition to becoming parents? Perhaps this taps into our family of origin model, or traditional gender roles we witnessed growing up or are actively working not to replicate.

-       Do we have someone that can help us navigate our financial goals?

-       Have we thought about creating a will and getting life & disability insurance?

-       Are we able to begin saving for our child? Perhaps discussing a savings account and/or a 529 education plan with a financial advisor may be a goal within the first few years.

 

Maternity & Paternity Leave

This topic aligns really closely with finances. Many parents in the United States do not get paid leave; in fact, the US is the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national mandate for paid family leave. That being said, many companies do offer paid maternity leave for a certain amount of time, and the topic of paternal leave is becoming more open and accepted.

Discussion questions:

-       Do you know if your employer offers paid maternity and paternity leave?

-       For how long?

-       Is there room to extend, perhaps at a partial pay rate?

-       What is the culture around taking this time in your workplace? (this may be especially relevant to working fathers where parental leave has not been the norm or expectation.)

-       What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for yourself and your partner?

-       Ideally, how much time would you like to take off after the birth?

-       How does the idea of taking time off work feel for you? Is it a relief? Is it anxiety inducing? Maybe both!

-       Does it have longer term ramifications on your role/standing/potential for promotion etc.?

-       If there is no paid leave, how will that impact your choices and your family’s financial position?

-       Is this something you can begin to save for, in order to create a financial buffer?

 

Childcare transition

Depending on where you live, the demand for child care may be very high. In Chicago (and other major cities across the country,) it is recommended to put your name on a waiting list for daycares in the early months of pregnancy in order to get a spot by the time you are ready to go back to work. Or, you may decide you want a babysitter/nanny, you may have family upon whom you can rely for childcare. Or, you may decide to stay home with your child. There is no right or wrong choice - it’s about what is best for your family, your needs, and your budget (and remember, these decisions are not set in stone; you can always alter the plan if one decision is no longer working for you and your family!)

Discussion questions:

-       What are the specific professional constraints of our jobs? (for example: do you work late evenings, weekends, half days, etc.)

-       How do these specific schedules align with childcare decisions?

-       For example: Working late may be challenging with a daycare that closes at a specific hour. Working part time may lend towards a part-time babysitter for flexibility. Working weekends may require a special scenario, unless a co-parent can step in.

-       What is our childcare budget, and how do we decide that?

-       Do we have beliefs or thoughts about what would be best for our family?

-       Do we have spoken or unspoken concerns or fears about this step, or a specific option?

-       Do our families/ support systems/ friends have opinions that they have made known to us? How does that impact our feelings and decisions?

I am sure there are a number of important topics that can be included in this list. Think of this as a place to start, and use this as a resource and a conversation catalyst. See what doors open as you begin to explore and question some of these decisions, individually and as a couple.

You can read Part 1: here

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

-       Postpartum Depression

-       Becoming a Mother

-       Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

-       Sex after Baby

-       The First Year of Parenthood

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 1

There are a million and one things I wish I had known before becoming a parent; how to put a breast pump together, how to decipher between hungry tears or tired tears, how to manage sleep deprivation without screaming at my spouse, how and when to introduce solid foods successfully. The list goes on and on; the fact is, most of this stuff is learned “on the job” - and that can be hard to prepare for (especially because so many things will be unique to your family and your baby.)

However, there are a few topics that I think every soon-to-be parent would benefit from spending time talking with their partner and thinking about, so that when the time comes, less of your precious energy is spending working through these logistics and making hard decisions, and more of it can be focused on taking care of yourself, your partner, and your new baby.

This is Part One of a two-part series in which I’ll introduce my first 3 topics: Birth Plan & Preparation, Feeding (Breast & Bottle), and Support & Family; I’ve included open-ended questions related to each of these areas in the hopes that it helps you to get the conversation started!

Birth Plan & Preparation

There is often great emphasis on this aspect of the pregnancy; in the US, our medical model requires multiple check ups with doctors and birthing professionals, and even, preparatory classes focused specifically on labor and the birthing process. Of course, these are exceptionally helpful, but I fear they can also give women a false sense of control over a process that requires flexibility, and potentially a last minute change.

There can also be a great amount of shame and pressure attached to this process; some women feel judged for their choices - whether it is the choice to birth without the use of medication, or the choice to use medication and/or an epidural. There is even shame attached to cesarean births - when a mother feels like a failure for not being able to have a vaginal birth or feels like her meticulous birthing plan has already gone awry.

One lovely and comforting response to this topic comes from doula Erica Chidi Cohen & author of Nurture, (one of my favorite pregnancy resources). She writes:

Currently, the term ‘natural birth’ creates more division than cohesion between women, which is what I think makes it problematic. ‘Natural’ is not an explanatory term and it doesn’t give women agency to optimize their birthing experience, especially for the predominant number of births taking place in hospitals. You can advocate for yourself better by using the real terms. When I hear a client say they would like to have a ‘natural birth’ or ‘I’m trying to birth as naturally as possible,’ one of the first things I’ll say to them is, ‘However you’re going to move through this process is going to be natural to you.’ No matter what a birth ends up looking like, there’s nothing unnatural about it, because it’s natural for women to be pregnant and have a baby” (emphasis mine)

Discussion questions:

- Do I have either spoken or unspoken expectations of myself or my partner around labor?

- Do I have beliefs or fears around the use of medications or epidurals?

- How can my partner support me during my labor and during our hospital stay? (this is one that can be explored more usefully through resources/birthing classes)

- Who do we want in the room? Who would we like to have at the hospital?

- Where do we want to give birth? (Nurture has an excellent section on making this decision and weighing the trade offs for hospital vs. at home births.) Do we agree on this?

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding

Recently there has been a more open, honest dialogue about the challenges and potential difficulties related to breastfeeding. It can be painful, not intuitive, and sometimes, women require the help of a professional to teach them how to breastfeed their baby. Most of us no longer live in communities where multiple new mothers gather together at once, taken care of by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. We are more isolated now that we have ever been in human history, and this is one area of motherhood where we see the impact.

Over recent decades there have been significant policy shifts on the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and the impacts connected to each choice. Currently, there is a significant push from pediatricians and medical professionals to breastfeed at least until your child turns one (American Academy of Pediatrics.) However, it is important to note, that this is not the model of all developed nations, and this is often not an option (or a desire) for many women.

(I really love this resource: Fed is Best, which offers resources and support to women who are breastfeeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both!)

Discussion questions:

- Do you have spoken or unspoken expectations of yourself or your partner as it relates to feeding your newborn?

- Do you have deeply held preferences or beliefs around the choice between breast milk and formula?

- What are your beliefs around who makes these decisions? Does mom/birthing parent have veto power/ultimate choice, or is this ultimately a team decision?

- Do you know how you were fed as a child? How long did your mother breastfeed, if ever? Does that impact your decision?

- Do you plan to take a breastfeeding course, or hire a lactation consultant to help in this endeavor?

- What are ways that non-birthing parent/father can support breastfeeding partner/mom in her goals, whatever they may be?

Support & Family

There are countless models for how to incorporate family, in-laws and support systems into the arrival of your baby. Some parents want their own parents in the delivery room, some feel more comfortable with the waiting room of the hospital, and some would prefer for their family and friends to wait until they are home for a visit. There is no right answer… and it can be hard to know what you will want because (likely) you’ve never been in this situation before.

Three ideas from my own experience (that will not fit for everyone, but can give ideas!)

1. I once read the advice that after the baby comes there are no guests, just helpers (I wish I remembered who deserves credit for this line!) Meaning, if people would like to come and meet the baby, give them a job, ask them for some help, even in a small way. Perhaps, can you bring over some lunch? Would you mind walking the dog? Can you sit with the baby while I shower? Can you clean the dishes in the sink? This may feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who struggle with asking for help - but, I can assure you, that is what your friends and family are there for, and they are happy to do it. [Extra helpful, if non birthing partner/Dad can take this on, that way, birthing partner doesn’t have to use her energy or bandwidth to think about it, especially in the early days and/or if she is breastfeeding around the clock.]

● Another point to mention; in the early days and weeks, mostly if you decide to breastfeed, the majority of the baby work will fall to the birthing parent/mom; much of the help in the early days is helping to take care of YOU (nutrition, shower, sleep, a few minutes to yourself), and your home/pets/other children/etc. Keep this in mind when you think about who can come to help you and how!

2. Create a meal train! Perhaps you’ve heard of this service - you can create a signup sheet for family and friends to bring you meals at your preferred times/dates. They can either drop off the meals or, they can stay and enjoy the food with you! We did this for our closest friends, creating opportunities for them to come over and meet the baby, and cook dinner for all of us to share together. It was a stress-free and lovely way to reconnect with our people and community and it felt a bit like hosting a dinner (without the cooking part!)

3. Be clear about your boundaries and needs. Every family has a different culture around this time; discuss with your partner what you think you will need and how much you can handle. For us, this meant, staggering visits from friends and family so that we wouldn’t be without help for the first 4-6 weeks, but we would never have more than 2-3 people visiting at one time. This will look different for everyone, but it may be helpful to create a calendar for visitors, and this is another task that non birthing partner/Dad can manage and coordinate, in order to take it off of birthing partner/Mom’s plate in the early days and weeks. It is also helpful to be clear with visitors and guests, especially if they are visiting from out of town, that you are a) either happy to host them, or b) prefer that they stay in a hotel/airbnb/with a friend etc.

Discussion questions:

- Do you have hopes or expectations for who will be around during or closely following the birth?

- Are there religious or cultural rituals/practices and expectations that need to be planned and accounted for in the early days and weeks? Who can help you organize them?

- How do you feel about visitors - staying with you, and for how long? How many people at one time would feel comfortable?

- Do you have members of your family who can be helpful at specific tasks? (ie. a great cook in the family can make dinner for everyone during their visit! Dog lovers can be in charge of walking the dog!)

- How do you want to navigate this and communicate it to friends and family? Does non birthing partner/Dad feel comfortable managing these communications, even with non family members or in-laws?

I hope this was helpful and can be a catalyst for further conversation between you and your partner / co-parent. The next conversation topics will focus on Finances, Maternity & Paternity Leave, and the Childcare transition. Keep an eye out for Part 2 in the coming weeks!

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

- Postpartum Depression

- Becoming a Mother

- Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

- Sex after Baby

- The First Year of Parenthood

Three Tips for Finding Your Ideal Relationship

By Rachel D. Miller, MA, AMFT

By Rachel D. Miller, MA, AMFT

If you’re in the dating game, I’m going to guess you have a list of things you’re looking for in your perfect mate. In fact, I will bet you have a few lists, even if they are just mental ones. The problem with these lists is too often they focus on qualities or characteristics that you either want or don’t want to be present in the individuals you date. You might want someone who is intelligent, well-groomed, has a good job or built like Jason Momoa. You may refuse to date someone who watches NASCAR, has poor hygiene, or is divorced. While I understand how and why we develop these lists, they fail to touch on the things that people truly want in and from a relationship. These lists might actually be keeping you from the person who could bring you the most relationship fulfillment.

When I work with individuals who feel like they just can’t win the dating game, I suggest they toss their lists. Instead I ask them to contemplate how they believe they would feel in a relationship that was deep and meaningful for them. I ask what would need to be present in the relationship, not the person, for them to feel safe, secure, and connected. This new “ideal relationship list” can be challenging so here are suggestions to get you started.

Start with what you don’t want.

Many find it easier to talk about what they don’t want rather than what they do in a relationship. After a few failed courtships, focusing on what to avoid rather than what to find feels like a more reliable endeavor. Mind set and focus can greatly impact your dating experience. When all the focus on is on making sure this new one isn’t like the last three bad ones you risk missing the potential positives.

This is an exercise I learned from Law of Attraction expert and author, Michael Losier. Whether you buy into all the hype around the Law of Attraction or think it’s bogus, this exercise repeatedly creates a shift for the singles and couples I see. Start by taking time to list the things you know you do not want in your ideal relationship. Then one by one, change the wording to figure out what you do want. For example, if you know that you don’t want a partner who takes you for granted, shift that to, “I want to be with someone who appreciates me.” This change in language may not seem like it would matter, but words have the power to change your day to day experiences and expectations. When you focus on what you’re looking for, rather what you’re trying to avoid it becomes easier to recognize it when it appears.

Examine the past.

As challenging as it can be to find the good in failed relationships, it is important to do so. It can be key to determining your needs. If your last partner was attentive and affectionate, even if only in the early stages, and that contributed to feeling loved and appreciated, you know those are things you desire in future relationships. Past relationships are incredible opportunities for learning and growth, if we choose to view them in that light.

Observe others.

We all have those couples we think are perfect. The ones we watch and say “I want what they have.” The question is, do you really? Do you know what it is about their relationship that you admire? I urge you to spend some time with those couples, observe and talk to them. Figure out what it is that makes them work or what they have that you feel you haven’t yet. You might be surprised at what you find.

No relationship is perfect, but we each have an ideal. If you don’t know what yours looks or feels like, how can you hope to find it? A partner can have all the qualities you think you’re looking for, but the relationship can still feel disconnected and unfulfilling. Get familiar with what you need and desire in a relationship. Know your ideal.

Strategies to Move Through a Breakup

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

Around Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of beautiful ways we can honor our loving relationships, and I’m mindful of those who feel alone and hurt – particularly those who have recently ended relationships. Breakups are profoundly painful phases that drain our emotional and physical states, and they will most likely impact you at one point or another. The following list includes strategies to implement at any point during a breakup process. Incorporating some of these ideas will restore your energy and help you create a new normal.

1. Kindness

Do one good thing for yourself each day. This can range from a small gesture of kindness to something larger. Getting a special coffee from your favorite coffee shop, cooking yourself a nourishing and delicious meal, going to the movies, or getting a massage are some examples.

2. Connect with Your Greatest Support Systems

Set up time to see friends or family and schedule at least one or two of these get-togethers each week. This can be helpful for a few reasons. One, surrounding yourself with supportive connection can feel healing. Two, it gives you some structure in the week and forces you to get out into the world. There are open pockets of time that you and your past partner once spent together, and this is one way to fill that time meaningfully. If family and friends are far away, consider setting up phone calls or trips to see them.

3. Reflection

At times, you may want to create a list of reasons why the relationship didn’t serve you. Be honest with yourself about the ways this relationship impacted you. It’s normal to think of both good and bad impact.

If you are ready to take a step further in your reflection, notice the ratio of good to bad. Ask yourself if you had awareness of this picture while you were in this relationship and begin think of ways you can you build greater awareness going into your next relationship.

Reflection with this list can be particularly helpful if you hoping to get back together or stay apart.

4. Physical Movement

Go for a walk or try a new workout class. Joining a sports league or a weekly fitness class can not only help your body feel better but also add structure to your routine.

5. Distraction

Create a list of go-to, feel-good things when you have inevitable moments of emptiness. Think of activities you can do when you’re alone and activities you can do with friends or family. Moments of intense loneliness and pain can appear out of nowhere. A premeditated list of activities will give you options in moments where your thought energy is lacking.

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier AMFT

The First Year of Parenthood

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself transported back to the end of 2017, when I was just a few days away from giving birth and becoming a mother. It feels almost impossible to think that I now have a one year old, and while the end of 2017 seems like it was just yesterday - the growth, change and complete transformation make it feel like a lifetime ago. 

As I continue to read, discuss (and experience) the topic of matrescense (read my post here) and the transition to parenthood in both my personal and professional life, it is clear that while becoming a parent is instant, the transformation is multifaceted, complicated and comes in waves. 

The same is true for the transition to co-parenting. You and your partner are both experiencing a personal transformation (which may happen at different rates, and in different ways), AND the level of teamwork, support and coordination required of the couple is greater than it has ever been. 

Here are some of what I found to be the most helpful lessons for individuals and co-parents for the first year of baby! My hope, as always, is that transparency and discourse will help validate your experiences and continue to create a space for these topics to be explored and discussed amongst other mothers, parents & between co-parents!

1.  Maternal Gatekeeping is a term I first heard in How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn.  The term refers to a very common occurrence: a mother openly and perhaps aggressively criticizes her partner for doing things “wrong” with the baby. Whatever it may be - changing, feeding, carrying etc. Mom guards the role of “baby expert” and rather than getting the help she needs (and wants!) she is cutting her partner’s confidence down with each critique. 

Eventually, this results in a parent (usually a father) feeling so demoralized and attacked, that he retreats from the parenting arena, leaving mom to her own devices, and feeling potentially abandoned and isolated. This is also where the team mentality can shift; mom thinks, its me & baby against the world because we are alone and my partner isn’t helpful, rather than the preferred position of mom & dad being a unified team, managing and troubleshooting the demands of parenting together. As you might imagine, if the first mindset (mom & baby against the world) is maintained long term can have very serious ramifications on the couple’s relationship both as lovers and co-parents.

So, my recommendation is, let your partner learn how to care for the baby on his or her own. Let them have the opportunity to put the diaper on backwards, or play too quickly after eating … they will learn. If the learning curve feels too scary, perhaps try a softer start up, like “Thank you so much for feeding the baby, it is so helpful. I have noticed that when I do this (what you’d like to see your partner doing) the baby reacts positively.”  Then leave the room, or the house, and allow your partner to take ownership over the task. No one needs to be micromanaged by their spouse.  

If this sounds really familiar, perhaps explore some of these questions - why do I need to be the baby expert? Am I scared to share this role with my partner? Who benefits if I am the only parent who feels confident with our child? What are the cycles and patterns that come up for us when this happens?

2. Create a sleep agreement with your partner. There is nothing worse than when your baby gets up in the middle of the night and you and your partner are fighting over who will be on baby duty. While biological mothers have greater sensitivity to their baby’s cries (thanks, evolution!), we are not exactly our most generous, patient selves at 3 am. A simple solution is agreeing beforehand, so everyone can be on the same page. Figure out what works for your family - if that is taking turns every night, or allocating certain days of the week - know the plan before you go to bed, so if you do have to get up, you can just focus on the baby and don’t have to worry about fighting with your partner.

 Same goes for sleeping in! Figure out what works for your family (work schedules/travel etc. allowing) - and give yourselves an opportunity to catch some precious sleep in the morning, (especially if your baby is an early riser!) Just make sure you agree to it the night before, so there is no unnecessary conflict when you could be depositing an extra hour into your sleep bank. 

3. Find your easy, accessible ‘self care’ go-tos, and do them often. Everyone knows the expression, you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are not giving yourself at least something during the week, you are likely not able to show up for your child, your spouse, your job etc. Figure out a few simple, affordable, & quick escapes for yourself that make the biggest difference, and figure out a time during your week that you have some childcare, some wiggle room, or negotiate taking turns with your spouse (maybe you get the morning, they get the afternoon, or you get Saturday, they get Sunday - whatever works!) 

Some examples - a bath; reading a book, going for a run outside, meeting a friend for a walk or coffee or drink. These all can be done in an hour and make the world of difference. Do not skimp on this. 

4. Do not give up everything from your life before baby. We live in a society where the culture of parenting can be relentless. (Great article here.) There can be a narrative that once you have a child you have to give up on your old life. While yes, there is a lot that will change, you are still you. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean giving up on everything but your kids. In fact, you will be a better parent if you model your dedication to lifelong hobbies, the importance of taking time for yourself, and that adults are still allowed to have fun. 

If you are a lifelong soccer player - find a way to stay in a weekly league; if you are a painter - find a way to make time to go to a painting class or paint at home (while someone else watches the baby). Yes, it will be hard to find the time and it may potentially be painful to separate from your child for a few hours, but you are investing in yourself long term and that will only make you a better version of yourself, and therefore, a better parent. And hopefully it goes without saying, support your partner in their own efforts - it will serve you both.

5. Find ways to enjoy staying in. One of the biggest transitions parents name is the amount of time they stay at home. It never used to be a big deal to grab dinner, go to the movies, or meet up with friends in the evening - now, unless you have a babysitter (or are a very lucky few who have live in support), you are putting the baby to bed, and staying in yourselves. Embrace this shift and try to find opportunities to enjoy it, both individually and as a couple. 

This might mean watching a new series together, or picking up at home yoga practice that you can do in the living room, it could even be cooking your way through a cookbook you’ve been drooling over; all of these are activities you can get into solo or enjoy with a partner or friend in the post baby bedtime hours.

6. Prepare for the financial surprises and stressors that will arrive with baby. There is a lot you can do to try and make the first year with baby a little less stressful financially. When you first become pregnant (or before, if you are super organized!), you can begin by saving monthly for funds that can go towards extraneous hospital fees, decorating the nursery, saving for maternity leave (if you do not have paid leave, or if you are planning to extend your time at home without paid leave), and extra childcare and every day costs. 

Obviously there are certain things one can anticipate - like diapers for instance, but it’s hard to anticipate everything. Give yourself a little wiggle room and realize that it takes many months to adjust to this new little person in your home. A little person whose needs may change and shift faster than you can change your budget. You may decide breastfeeding is not for you - and have to start spending more money on formula. You may decide that the last thing on earth you can do is clean your home, and you need some extra help. Or perhaps there is a change in your child careplan, and you need to switch things up last minute. Whatever it is - be gentle with yourself and your partner - and realize that perhaps the hardest part of parenting is relinquishing control.  

6. Budget extra time to your departures. You may be used to getting yourself ready and out the door; perhaps it takes you a cool 15 minutes, or you know you need an hour. You and your partner may have the same idea around time (ie. both of you prefer to be 10 minutes early, or are always running 30 minutes behind schedule!) but a lot of couples struggle to align around time and it causes a lot of repeat conflict. 

Now, add a little human into the mix! It’s going to take some time to figure out how long it takes to get your little one ready (with all their accessories/ depending on the season etc.) Once you know that, add another 10-15 minutes. Somehow, transit always takes a little longer than you anticipated and since time management is already a hot button for so many couples (even without children!) adding an extra time cushion a helpful way to avoid unnecessary partner strife. 

7. Milestones will happen - comparison is not your friend. It is hard not to compare ourselves to others in our day to day. Somehow, it seems even harder not to compare our little ones - especially when we see them side by side with another. It’s tempting to ask the parents about milestones, or even brag about your own baby’s accomplishments…totally normal, AND, be mindful that these can create a source of anxiety around milestones that happen at different rates for different kids. For the most part, barring any sort of serious condition or developmental delay, your child will crawl, your child will feed themself, they will learn to walk and talk because we all do! Try not to get stuck on the comparison train, and work to stay present and enjoy the time with your little one, because it’s likely you will look back on this time and miss the early days. 

8. There are parts of parenting that you may not like. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, or love being their parent. This one feels like the most *shameful* topic and that’s why I want to address it; to me, this is an extension of the conversation around not loving your baby immediately. There is a lot of pressure on parents, mothers specifically, that they love everything about time with their child. While that certainly is true for many parents, it is absolutely not the only truth. Having a baby can be exhausting, infuriating, boring, and isolating (amongst other feelings!); and it can be interspersed between moments of joy, wonder and love. It is mixed, and it is hard to ride that wave day in and day out. 

Some parents choose to be with their children 24/7, and others choose (or do not have the choice) to go back to work, which inherently limits their time with their children. I know some parents who wish more than anything that they could stay home with their babies, and others who thrive being at work and find that they are better parents because the time with their babies is more precious. There is no right answer. Do what works for you -- you can love your child with every part of your being, and also dislike parenting them at times. You can enjoy reading books and playing, but bath time and feeding may feel like your personal hell. It may be the reverse for others. Do what feels good for you and your family and do not let yourself feel like you’ve failed because parts of this don’t come so easy.

Additional resources on the transition to parenthood: Becoming Us, Elly Taylor

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, Jancee Dunn 

The Birth of a Mother, Dr. Alexandra Sacks, M.D.

• Watch her TED talk

Survival Guide for the Fourth Trimester, Christina Caron for the NYTimes

You Might Not Love Your baby Immediately, Sara GaynesLevy 

 

3 Common Mistakes of Online Dating

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

A few years ago, Aziz Ansari came out with a book dedicated to understanding the world of online dating. Here are a few of the common online dating mistakes he outlines in Modern Romance:

1. Messaging too much before meeting

The only way to know if you truly connect with someone is to meet them face-to-face. The desire to continue texting to see if you’re a good fit is well-intentioned, however, it can cause you to lose interest in the person before actually meeting them, or them in you. It also cannot replace the first impression your brain makes when meeting someone. Send a few messages and then set up a time to meet.

2. Dismissing people too early

The seemingly endless options through dating apps are great, until they aren’t. Having too many options can actually cause us to become more picky or incapable of making a decision at all. We adopt the mindset that there is always someone better and the little quirks that we may have grown to appreciate in someone become the reason we swipe left. Rather than dismissing someone for a minor difference, try investing in a few dates before making the decision to call things off.

3. Ghosting

When we decide we are no longer interested in someone, there tends to be three options of breaking the news: pretending to be busy, saying nothing, or being honest. Out of the three options, saying nothing was agreed to be the least preferable option when on the receiving end, and being honest was the first. However, most people reported using the “pretending to be busy” option and the “saying nothing” option when they needed to break the news to someone. Silence, better known as ghosting, creates situations where people are no longer accountable for their part in interactions and self-doubt and frustration take over. Remember that there is another person on the other end of the screen and hold yourself accountable in your interactions.

The Process of Change in Therapy

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

As a therapist, I am in the business of change. Change takes many forms depending on who is pursuing this change. Clients bring a whole host of variables to the equation of change including learned behaviors and viewpoints from families of origin, unique belief systems, and significant life experiences. This list goes on. Whatever you bring to the table, will shape your path. Part of my work is to meet you where you’re at and use your strengths to promote change.

Often I’m asked how long the therapy process will take or what the roadmap of change looks like. I’ve found it helpful to discuss a few things (below) with my clients to set realistic expectations for them AND to expand their definition of change so they get the most out of this work.

It’s Messy

The preferred method of change is a map with check points and linear movement – once you’ve completed one task, it’s on to the next. You know you’ve made progress and know exactly where you’re headed next. And that’s very comforting. Change can happen like this, but in my experience, change tends to look much different. It’s messy. It’s not linear. When my clients experience new ways of being, responses and realizations are activated and new paths in the work are uncovered. Responding to what becomes activated for you makes the work rich and thorough, and this will help promote lasting change. Your responses are happening for a reason, and it’s best to honor them versus bulldozing past them. If not given the time and attention they need, they will pop up again.

It’s Gradual

One of my teachers explained the impact of small change over time. He used the metaphor of a boat changing its course by several degrees. At first it may not seem like much is happening, but over the long run, your boat’s course will look much different than its initial course. Even a small 2-degree change has big impact over time. Develop respect for this process. You may want faster results, we all do. But change is in fact happening.

The 80/20 Rule

Your commitment to the work is key. It’s going to be hard. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be here. It takes persistence, curiosity, and effort outside of therapy. Many wonderful moments and realizations happen in therapy, and it’s the client’s responsibility to reflect on this work and experiment with these ideas outside of therapy. 80% of the work happens outside of the therapy room. 20% happens in the room.

Significantly Reduced Rate Therapy Sessions!

Rachel D. Miller

Rachel D. Miller

Focht Family Practice is now offering a unique opportunity to couples and families at a significant sliding scale fee! There is currently limited availability being offered with Rachel D. Miller, who is a doctoral student at Adler University. These sessions are required to be video recorded solely for the focus of educational purposes and are completely confidential and HIPPA compliant. To learn more, please complete the form on our Contact Page and add a note of interest in the message section.

5 Grounding Exercises for When Anxiety Hits

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

Anxiety is often not a favorite feeling. It can make us feel panicky, tense and not in control. While helpful in small amounts, anxiety can feel overwhelming when it is more intense. Grounding techniques are helpful in-the-moment exercises to decrease those feelings of anxiety and bring us back to the present. Here are five quick grounding exercises to try when you’re feeling anxious:

1. The “54321” Technique

- Name 5 things you can see right now (tree, bookcase, etc)

- Name 4 things you can feel right now (feet on floor, back on couch, etc)

- Name 3 things you can hear right now (music, people talking outside, etc)

- Name 2 things you can smell right now (fresh air, food cooking, etc)

- Name 1 good thing about yourself (I am thoughtful, I am strong, etc)

2. The Category Game

Try to name as many different items in a category that you can remember, such as different types of dog breeds, movies you’ve seen, cities you’ve visited, types of food, etc.

3. Square Breathing

- Inhale for 4 seconds

- Hold for 4 seconds

- Exhale for 4 seconds

- Hold for 4 seconds

- Repeat

Focus on how your breath feels coming in and out of your body during this exercise, and make sure to breathe from your diaphragm so that your belly expands before your chest.

4. Repeat a mantra or soothing statement to yourself

- “I can handle this”

- “This feeling will pass”

- “I am safe right now”

5. Remind yourself of things you are looking forward to in the next week

- Trying a new restaurant

- Going to a movie

- Spending time with a friend

Raising Boys in the Era of #MeToo

By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

I recently contributed to an article on Fatherly.com entitled “7 Toxic Phrases Parents Need to Stop Saying to Their Sons.” As is typical in articles like this, only a few of my thoughts made it into the final draft. This, along with my initial appearance on the Married AF podcast where we discussed the concept of toxic masculinity and the challenges of raising boys during the #metoo era, left me wanting to expand on the mixed and problematic messages boys receive throughout their lives about what it means to be a man.

Here are some of the common phrases today’s men grew up hearing. While many parents have softened, or removed, many of these from their lexicon they are alive and well in media and deeply imbedded into the narrative of our society.

1.     “Only girls wear pink/nail polish/dresses” or “Long hair/dolls/dress up is for girls”

As women began to fight for their rights, it became more socially acceptable for women to dress like men, wear short hair, forgo makeup, etc. If we are truly working towards equality, or better yet, equity, then this needs to be a two-way street. It can’t only be okay for girls to adopt things society has deemed masculine, it also must be acceptable for boys to embrace things society claims are feminine. If girls can be fully expressive, boys must be allowed to do the same. Adopting a less binary and restrictive view of gender norms is helpful for everyone.

2.     “Boys don’t cry”

This phrase teaches boys that “softer” emotions belong to girls, preventing boys from being fully human and having the full human experience. It teaches them that only certain emotions are acceptable, and others must be quashed. Part of why many men struggle with relationships and regulating emotions is because we, as parents and a society, have told them that expressing emotions other than anger shows weakness and being weak is not acceptable. Anger is easier to grab than pain, sadness, or fear. And when all you are given is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

3.     “Toughen up/Man up/Don’t be a sissy”

Life is full of loss, challenges, hurts, and disappointments. When we tell boys they must be stoic in the face of life’s ups and downs, we make it impossible for them process their complete range of emotions. When emotions are not felt and processed they come out or are coped with in unhealthy ways. The results of unhelpful or unhealthy coping can be violence, alcohol or drug use, physical ailments, and mental health issues.

4.     “You throw/hit/run/play like a girl”

When we say this to boys we are teaching them that girls are less than. We are giving permission for them to view women and girls as not enough, less than, unworthy. We are telling them that men are better than women and girls.  Mind you boys have many important and influential women in their lives. They have moms, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, female cousins, teachers, and coaches whom they love. Yet we tell boys that doing anything like them is shameful? How does that make sense? Constantly being told that women are less than or not people to be admired or emulated can lead to entitlement and a belief that even the most reprehensible of men is somehow innately better than the most intelligent, creative, compassionate, talented, and powerful woman. See the problem?

5.     “Boys will be boys”

This excuse does a serious disservice to boys and society at large. It teaches boys that they are not responsible for their own actions and are not going to be held accountable for their behaviors. In addition, it steals their self-efficacy. It says men and boys can’t help themselves. Why this is one is particularly problematic is that it feeds into societal myths around domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault and contributes to the continual victim blaming we see happening all around us.

 

Doing it differently

More and more parents are expressing concerns about raising boys in the aftermath of #metoo. Here are a few of the questions I have been asked in recent months:

·      How do I help my sons understand consent and sexual harassment?

·      How do I help my teenager understand the inappropriateness and severe ramification of asking for, sending, or receiving naked SnapChats/texts/Facebook messages, etc.?

·      What can I do to counteract the messages my son is getting from friends, media, and society?

·      How do I help my son grow up to have close, meaningful relationships?

·      What steps should I take to ensure my son can fully express and manage his emotions in a healthy way?

There are not simple, straightforward answers to these questions, but feminist thought can provide parents a foundation for how to develop a more equitable household, and society, for the benefit of all genders. Removing a few phrases from our vocabulary, like those discussed above, and knowing some things not to do, while a step in the right direction, is only the beginning. Embracing feminism yourself and raising boys to be feminists will help them develop a healthy understanding of equality, equity, power, oppression, and empathy. The readings suggested below can spark discussion and provide opportunities to question how we’ve historically raised boys into men, and how we might do things differently moving forward

Articles

·      In the #MeToo Era, Raising Boys to be Good Guys by David McGlynn

·      Six Ways Dads Can Raise Feminist Sons by Kristy Ramirez

·      How to Raise a Feminist Son by Claire Cain Miller

Books

·      Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

·      The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

Part IV: Sex after baby.

Most of us have heard the age-old narrative that your sex life disappears after you have children. You are exhausted and sleep feels substantially more important than sex; perhaps your focus and intimacy is on the baby – not on each other; or, perhaps your body no longer feels desire or arousal the way it once did. No matter the reasons (and there are countless more), for some, it is a terrifying prospect that your once beloved sex life may be one of the casualties in the transition to parenthood.

There is good news: Your sex life does not have to disappear when you become a parent. It does, however, have to change and evolve for your new life and the new (very significant) constraints of having a baby. The key is to approach this change with care, curiosity and flexibility for yourself and your partner.

Let’s visit some of the significant constraints that new parents face in rebuilding their sexual relationship and therapeutic strategies you can use to address them:

1. Sleep Deprivation; This is perhaps the biggest reason that parents name when they discuss the difficulty in reigniting their sexual relationship, post baby. Especially if your child hasn’t begun to sleep in longer stretches, the idea of trading in precious sleep for sex is hard to imagine.

It’s also important to note that sleep deprivation and exhaustion can impact your hormone levels, increase anxiety and irritability, and has been associated with greater conflict between partners. It’s hard to imagine wanting to have sex or any type of physical intimacy when your sole focus is trying to maintain enough energy for a baby whose needs are continuous.

Strategy: Take turns with the night time feedings and early wake ups (if you can) so each of you can get some longer stretches. Offer support if you know your partner is especially tired. If you are breastfeeding, your partner can sit with you during a middle of the night feeding - even if he can’t “do” anything, his presence is important and signifies that you are a team. You may be sleep deprived, but you are exhausted together, and can see the experience as a bonding one. Sex might not be on the table at this point (it is likely you will want to wait until you have more energy) but building the foundation of your new co-parenting role can be incredibly intimate, and knowing you are a united front will ultimately translate into an easier transition towards physical intimacy when the time is right. (There is nothing that will put you in the mood less than fighting with your partner about who is more tired. So, try to stay on the same team and avoid the rabbit hole of sleep resentment.)

2. Hormonal impact; the hormonal impact on your postpartum body can be very significant. Many women report feeling like they’re on an emotional roller coaster in the first few weeks and months after giving birth. (Read more about the signs and impact of postpartum depression and anxiety here.)

Breastfeeding mothers are producing a hormone called prolactin, while necessary for lactation, it is also responsible for lowering libido. Breastfeeding mothers bodies often suppress ovulation and their lower estrogen levels impact cervical mucus. Vaginal dryness may be an issue – causing sexual intercourse to be less enjoyable and even painful. If that wasn’t enough, breastfeeding also lowers female testosterone, which contributes to overall decreased libido. Source

Strategy: Talk to your doctor or therapist about concerns if you notice signs of postpartum depression or anxiety in yourself or your partner. If you are ready to have sex but it feels unpleasant, you can use a water-based lubricant to help with vaginal dryness and consult with your doctor for other alternatives. Most of all, remember what your body went through; give it time, and communicate if you are in pain. Share with your partner what you know about the shift in your hormones and the potential impact that may have on your libido. This will help create an environment of openness and help him or her understand that your lack of arousal may not be about them at all (they will likely have their own beliefs and reasons for why this is happening.)

3. Mismatched needs & expectations; This bullet point could be the topic of an entire book. Childbirth in couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) is entirely one-sided for a period of time. The parent who gives birth will inherently bear the burden in a different way, and if she breastfeeds, that one sidedness can continue for months (or years) postpartum. All this to say, that especially in heterosexual couples, fathers may have a difficult time understanding the multitude of changes happening in his partner’s mind and body. These factors impact desire and arousal, and it may cause frustration and confusion between partners that there has been a significant change in the couples’ sex life and perceived desire for one another.

Strategy:  Talk about expectations with one another; so much of this chapter requires an open, honest dialogue about what is happening for each of you. Many partners may make assumptions about the reason for the changes in their sex lives; without asking your partner what they are feeling, both emotionally and physically, you may be completely missing the mark (and missing an opportunity to help.)

If this topic feels particularly fraught or scary, I’ve listed a number of resources at the bottom of the post that you and your partner can look to and, you can always schedule an appointment with a couples therapist or sex therapist to better understand and process the new sexual dynamics in your relationship.

4. Body insecurity, low self-esteem and not feeling sexy; Women – you just did something miraculous: you grew a human life inside of you for the better part of a year, and then went through a significant medical event in order to deliver the child. Your body went through a trauma and you may not be feeling your best, or look the way you did prior to your pregnancy.

In our current medical model, women have a 6 week postpartum check up (after a vaginal birth) in which, if everything is ok, they can be “cleared” to have sex with their partner. OBGYNs often hear their patients begging for more time, asking for a medical excuse to postpone this event, while many fathers are waiting anxiously for the green light.

Strategy: There is absolutely nothing wrong with not feeling ready at that point to jump back in the saddle; be gentle with your body and yourself. You may need more time to heal than a 6-week window. Take it slow and do what you need to do in order to feel your best. That can be anything from making sure you take a shower each morning, to putting on some makeup, to making sure you go for a walk outside and feel the fresh air, and drinking enough water each day. Self care looks different for each of us.

5. Overwhelmed by the new workload & lack of time; There are only so many hours in a day. Those hours are significantly decreased when you take on a newborn feeding schedule, or are chasing a baby around. Your free time feels virtually non-existent, and it can feel like there is a never-ending mountain of work (both domestic and professional) that builds. These stressors can act as a “brake” to halt sexual arousal and desire (Nagowski). If our minds are always thinking about what needs to get done or how stressed we are, we will likely have a much more difficult time transitioning to a sexy mindset.

Strategy:  If we know our sexual drive and desire is negatively correlated with stress levels, this can be an opportunity to our partners not to complain about the lack of sex, but to ask – “what do you need help with?”

Parents need to practice self-care in order to be able to think about accessing desire for their partner. Often, this means lightening the load for your partner so they can have time to get back to themselves, and momentarily step out of mommy or daddy mode. Give them some time to see their friends (and get out of the house), to exercise (increased blood flow increases libido), and make sure you both are hydrated and fed (you need energy to have sex.)

Another helpful strategy for some is to schedule sex. For the partners who would like to increase the frequency in their sex lives but struggle to find the time in their schedules, try planning ahead. Either create a sexy calendar invite for your partner to let them know you are thinking about them, or have a standing date/time that you can connect physically. This requires a regular check in to make sure expectations are clear and flexibility with changing schedules. (For example, sending a text mid-day for your weekday “sexy time” to ask if your partner is still interested and committed to the plan for the evening. This not only helps avoid disappointment if things change, but can also help to build anticipation as the day goes on.)

6. Relying on baby for intimacy; This is a common trap for many new parents, especially new moms. As mentioned above, there is an evolutionary “one sidedness” to childbirth that is much more pronounced in the first months and year of a child’s life. Mothers often find themselves with longer parental leave to bond with the baby, and may choose to breastfeed, which requires nearly constant touch and necessary attunement with a baby’s feeding schedule.

This bonding is incredibly special, and it can be all consuming. This connection can feel so intense and magical that it begins to replace your partner’s intimacy. This quote from Esther Perel, in her book, Mating in Captivity, describes this phenomenon beautifully:

“Children are indeed a source of nurturance for adults. Their unconditional love infuses our lives with a heightened sense of meaning. The problem arises when we turn to them for what we no longer get from each other: a sense that we’re special, that we matter, that we’re not alone. When we transfer these adult emotional needs onto our children, we are placing too big a burden on them” (Perel; Kerner & Raykeil, p. 50)

Strategy: Make time for your connection outside of baby. As a couple, you need to build your reservoirs of connection physically, but also emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes date night can be just for that – for connecting, talking, laughing, eating. You can even try a “no baby” rule on date night - talk about anything but the baby. Remember how and why you connected before you became parents. Another favorite tip about date night from Esther Perel!

(Side note about date night: It can be hard to feel sexy and in the mood after a full meal, late at night. Be clear about how you’re feeling and help to differentiate between date nights and sex. If you wait for sex only on date night, it may be a while, and it can heighten the pressure around the evening.)

This list of constraints and strategies is obviously not exhaustive, and quite honestly just scratches the surface of this topic. I focused mostly on parents who are transitioning to parenthood for the first time, with one child and many of the strategies are “mother-centric”. Below are additional resources that I’ve found incredibly helpful and normalizing for couples in this stage of their transition to parenthood.

Additional Resources:

  •      Love in the Time of Colic, Ian Kerner & Heidi Raykeil
  •      How not to Hate your Husband After Kids, Jancee Dunn
  •      And Baby Makes Three, John & Julie Gottman
  •      Becoming Us, Elly Taylor
  •      Come As You Are, Emily Nagowski

The First Therapy Session: What to expect

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

You have decided to begin therapy. And with this decision comes a variety of emotions. You may feel nervous about beginning the process; the idea of sharing the most intimate parts of your life with someone new can be scary. On the other hand, you may feel relief that someone with expertise can provide the guidance and support you need. Perhaps you feel both. These reactions among many others are expected. It’s normal to be scared, relieved, anxious, hopeful, optimistic, etc. Whatever you are feeling, it’s normal.

During a first session, many clients have reflected to me that they are not sure how to do this or what to expect. As someone who has sat in the therapist chair and on the couch, I am familiar with the anxieties and uncertainties that accompany a first session. The following entails a basic structure of an initial session and some words of advice. I hope this provides comfort and clarity into what to expect during your first session.

A Basic Structure

During the first 5 to 10 minutes, a therapist is likely to go over paperwork. This includes consent to treatment, payment policies, and an overview of confidentiality. Additionally, the therapist may discuss ways to contact them outside of appointments.

Next, the therapist will be curious to understand what brings you to therapy and will listen to your story and ask questions to better understand your situation. It is also possible that you’re unsure exactly what has brought you to this moment in time. Perhaps there is so much going on you need help sorting it out. If this is the case, it may take a few sessions to identify what’s brought you here.

After discussing the challenges you face, the therapist may ask what goals you have for therapy. Goals keep the therapy grounded and help both the clients and therapist measure success and progress. They can change throughout the work, and as one goal is met, another goal may surface. It is okay if you are unable to name a goal in the initial session. The therapist will help you make sense of what is important to you.

Once these initial tasks are completed, the course of therapy diverges. Your particular challenge, stage of life, past attempts at solving the problem, and numerous other factors will shape your path. A therapist will continue to gather information to paint a picture of your situation. Together, you will collaboratively find solutions with some trial and error along the way.

Words of Advice

You are most likely in a state of vulnerability and perhaps pain. Be gentle with yourself and your expectations from the start. We all have varying levels of readiness when it comes to sharing the private details of our lives. Yes, in the first session you will be talking a lot about yourself, but there is no pressure to put it all out there unless you are ready and able to do so. I have seen clients so desperate to manhandle change that they come into therapy sharing too much too fast, and we haven’t yet established a relationship. Honor the speed that feels comfortable to you.

Speaking of the therapeutic relationship, this is a key ingredient in the process. Feeling a sense of safety and trust with the therapist will further allow you to explore the hard parts of yourself or your life that you haven’t yet examined. This relationship will take time to grow. Gauging how you feel in your therapist’s presence after a few sessions will be a good indicator of fit. If things are feeling off, I encourage you to say something directly to your therapist. Therapists are trained to receive and gather feedback. It can be uncomfortable to give your therapist feedback, but could result in an adjustment that makes the therapy process what you need. A great response to feedback from a therapist is curiosity instead of defensiveness. If you are experiencing the latter, reevaluate whether you wish to continue.

Final Comments

As therapists, we know this can be uncomfortable, we know you are stuck, and we know you’d rather be anywhere else. It is impressive and respect worthy that you wish to look at parts of your life you’d like to change. It is my greatest hope that you find comfort, enlightenment, and growth in this new process. Please know we are honored to sit with you and be a part of your life in this way.

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!)