Keep the Spark Alive in Long-Term Relationships: 9 Tips for Initiating Sex

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Early in your relationship, the thought that you might need tips for initiating sex were probably the furthest thing from your mind. There was a lot of sex and subsequently, a lot of talk about sex. Yet, over time, both the sex and the conversation surrounding it tend to slow down.  Realistically, it’s not surprising that lust cools and intimacy shifts as the relationship matures. But, if a couple is not communicating about their sex life, it can spell trouble.

The Stages of a Sex Life

Wait…there are stages?

The first step in keeping the sexual spark alive is recognizing that this spark can and often does fizzle after a period. We like to think we’re different. Our entire connection will be the proverbial “honeymoon phase” and we won’t need to talk about it to keep the excitement alive.  A more productive approach is to commit early to open communication about all things, including sex. If you accomplish this, there can be a healthy pattern to the stages of your sex life. For example:

  • Anything Goes. the dizzying early days when lust feels like a new discovery.

  • Finding a Rhythm. When you realize this is not a fling and settle into your own personal sex vibe.

  • Rhythm Becomes Routine. As time passes and responsibilities increase, you lose that spontaneous feeling.

  • Resisting the Cliché. “We will not become that couple everyone talks about!”

  • Acceptance. Okay, you sometimes are that couple but recognizing this creates room for…

  • Reinvention. With enough trust and lust, this process can always stay fresh.

9 Tips for Initiating Sex & Keeping the Spark Alive in a Long-Term Relationship

1. Open the Lines of Communication

Being clear and honest is sexy. Put aside assumptions and embrace direct discussion.

2. Redefine “Sex”

It can feel demoralizing if you experience long gaps between sexual encounters. Take a look at how you define “sex,” and remember that there’s much more to intimacy than just that one act.

3. Practice Seduction

In many relationships, one or both partners may feel they are taken for granted. Practice seduction. It makes things stimulating again.

4. Don’t Put it Off

If you have social plans, why wait to get frisky afterward? Don’t risk being too tired, full, drunk, or cranky. Do it when the opportunity feels right.

5. Take a Mini-Vacation

If you’re in the position to plan a getaway, make it happen.

6. Use Tech to Tease

We have these fancy devices with us all day. Why not use them to remind your partner that they make you hot? A mid-day text is a sweet way to build some suspense.

7. Don’t Pine for the “Good Old Days”

What you looked like and how you got down “back in the day” is of no concern today. Find what feels right for who you are right now.

8. Lots of Compliments

This is connected to the practice of seduction, mentioned above. Verbalize your appreciation and feel the sexual tension rise.

9. Be Patient

There is no blueprint or magic formula. Relationships require our full and constant attention. Be patient, trust each other, and reap the rewards.

Getting to the Root of the Issue

Sometimes there are unspoken, underlying factors to consider when it feels that the spark has left your relationship. Relationships are complicated and issues other than your sex life impact all aspects of your connection.

If it feels like the thrill is gone, you might want to ponder if the thrill is just being obscured by other things happening in your relationship. Perhaps there are things, such as hurt feelings, unresolved resentments, lack of intentional time together, busy schedules, etc., that are influencing your feelings about sexual intimacy with your partner. Many couples seek professional assistance by committing to meeting with a professional counselor to help them identify barriers that are keeping the sexual spark from igniting. In a safe and non-judgmental setting honest discussion can bloom, unhelpful patterns are exposed, new approaches are suggested, and additional tips for initiating sex explored. The result is a sharper awareness of how to stay intimate as your relationship evolves through the years ahead.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are looking to regain the spark in their relationship. If you and your partner are ready to enhance sexual intimacy and restore an emotional and physical connection, call Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

8 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Move Forward When Your Ambition Stalls

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Looking for ways to motivate yourself?

You thought you knew what you wanted. The drive and ambition were there. You could feel them in your bones and your heart. Whether it was completing a degree, working on a project, or implementing a new fitness regime, you were dedicated to your goal.

Yet, somewhere along the line, your ambition began to waver. You lost focus and things just stalled out.

Now you feel stuck, struggling to bring up the drive to get started again.

You’re not alone. Consider these tips for finding your motivation so that you can move forward once again.

1. Take a Step Back

Sometimes we get so hyper-focused on a goal that we miss out on what’s happening around us. The first step towards re-motivating yourself should always include taking a step back. This allows for a renewed perspective. Perhaps there was something you missed? Something that could help you find your ambition again?

2. Take a Break

Consider whether a complete break from what you are doing is in order. If you aren’t “feeling it,” then it may not be worthwhile to keep forcing it. Walking away affords you the opportunity to refocus your energy on other things. You never know, this might create the spark that brings you back to your original goal and ambition, or it may set you on a better and more fulfilling path.

3. Set Small Goals

Maybe you had set a major goal, such as running a marathon or starting a new company. Your goals are great! However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose your ambition when a goal is so broad. Instead, break it up into manageable, smaller goals. For example, start with a 5K, then a 10K, working your way up to a full marathon. Your dreams of corporate ownership may be better realized if you concentrate on a concrete business plan before jumping into an investment or property.

4. Make the Time and Space

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “if I only had the time”?

Most of us lose motivation when we don’t believe that we have the time to work on our goals. Ways to motivate yourself may require specific planning and setting aside a designated period routinely to follow your ambitions. Use a calendar and schedule allotted time to work on your goals. Hold yourself accountable for that time.

5. Give Yourself a Daily Pep-Talk

A good old-fashioned pep talk might help break up your lack of motivation so you can move forward. You could stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself, “You can do this” when your confidence falters. Or, achieve the same end by hanging a picture or changing your phone’s background photo to something that reminds you of your ambition. This could be your dream of graduating, or a picture of that literal, or figurative, mountain you want to climb.

Many people also find that repeating a daily mantra like “I am capable and clear-minded. My dreams are within reach,” helps focus them on their goal.

6. Talk to a Mentor

Perhaps you believe you just don’t have the knowledge or experience to fulfill your ambition. If so, seek out a mentor who can help. Mentors not only pass on their knowledge but can provide perspective, motivation and encouragement when you need it.

7. Ask If This is What You Want

Think about it. If you have lost the ambition to do something, question whether it’s something you really want. This doesn’t mean quitting, but it does mean reassessing what your objectives and desires are. Open your mind. Perhaps you can still fulfill your ambition in a different way. For instance, if you want to own your own business, you might need to try a few different paths before finding success.

8. Take the Plunge!

After everything is said and done, nothing helps more than just taking the plunge and going for it. For a writer, this could mean simply sitting down and just start writing. If your ambition is to be more physically fit, take that first step around the block towards a healthier you. Whatever your goal, don’t overthink it. Don’t beat yourself up for previous false-starts.  Get up now and start towards your dream!

Losing your motivation and ambition doesn’t have to mean giving up. Try not to think of the situation in all-or-nothing terms. Instead, consider ways to motivate yourself and approach the problem realistically. Use the above ideas or come up with your own strategies to regain your ambition. If necessary, seek the help of a counselor or life coach who can help you look at things objectively, identify mental or emotional roadblocks, and organize your thoughts.

You’re still in charge of your future. With a plan and support, you can keep moving forward to achieve your goals.

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Ellen Rohr, M.Ed., LPC, is a senior staff counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Ellen helps guide both couples and individuals through life’s challenges, and provides insight when you may feel stuck in moving towards your goals. To get the perspective and encouragement you need to move forward, reach out to schedule an appointment with Ellen at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or visit the RCC Austin Scheduling page to request your appointment online.

6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority This Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Resolution #1: “Make Your Relationships A Priority”

From New Year’s Eve forward, we tend to jump into a myriad of resolutions and goal setting activities that fuel to-do lists, which may grow exponentially throughout the year. Resolutions focused on relationships, sadly, tend to get the least amount of attention.

Where do your relationships factor in your list of priorities? After the gifting and gathering of the holidays, do you find they get pushed further and further down the line? How many times have you felt guilty, stressed, or dissatisfied by the diminishing quality of your relationships as time goes by?

If you don’t have a solid plan to guide you to make your relationships a priority, you may end up giving the least attention to those you care for the most. You can avoid taking those you love for granted by checking in routinely, keeping communication flowing, and scheduling time together.

How do we do all that and reverse the inclination to put relationships on the back burner? Let’s see:

Try these 6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority Year Round

1. Keep Communication Curious, Central, and Commit to it Daily

No relationship grows if interest and meaningful discussion stagnate. Healthy communication honors and facilitates deeper connections.

The people you care about need to hear from you, sense your interest, and believe that you are eager to know what they think and feel on a regular basis. They want to know that you are interested in what’s going on in their world. When they are sure they belong to your tribe, they are more likely to engage routinely and reciprocate your interest. In time, your relationships will naturally flourish.

2. Cut Down on Digital Distractions

There are so many conveniences and technologies pulling us away from each other. Despite their promises to provide time for the important things in life, social media, emails, and gaming often get in the way of our real-life connections.

Though it’s easy to think we’re connecting, we’re just distracting ourselves from the more personal investment of face-to-face relationships. Why not power down completely or use your phone to plan a real-world meet-up?

3. Pursue Passion & Develop Deeper Intimacy

As it pertains to your romantic partner, it’s vital that you pay special attention to waning affection and any sign of “roommate syndrome.” Use your new year calendar to schedule time together, plan vacations, and block out special celebrations.

Talk to your partner, allow them to share their ideas of intimacy. You may be surprised at what makes them feel closest to you.

4. Make Gathering and Goodwill a Year-round Activity

Simply put, this is a call to get together! Resist the automatic claim that you don’t have time to gather with friends or loved ones. Plan simple gatherings both at your home and away:

  • Welcome people in for your brand of hospitality when they least expect it. It doesn’t matter if it is a four-course meal or game nights with chips and dip.

  • Suggest dining out at a favorite deli, museum outings, nature hikes, or field trips to local tourist traps. Just make the invitation and follow through.

Experiencing life with people helps relationships grow and produces more memories and opportunities to know each other in various ways.

5. Don’t Forget the “Little” Things

There really are no small gestures in a relationship--especially your most cherished relationships. The daily ritual of “I love you” and a forehead kiss is gold to a spouse. A silly card in your child’s lunchbox communicates support and belonging. A photo sent to your great aunt via snail mail says you cared enough to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Grand gestures and gifts are wonderful, but thoughtful attempts to stay connected often mean much more.

The take away here? Do your best to listen, to stay on top of birthdays, and to take note of special needs or life changes.  List favorite things and possible gift ideas for loved ones throughout the year. Soon, your mindful, considerate actions will draw others closer and deepen your bonds.

6. Appreciate and Celebrate

Most of all, attempting to make your relationships a priority means understanding how much they enrich your life. If certain individuals in your life are high priority people, they deserve to know it and feel it. Show appreciation as often as you can. Celebrate who they are and your relationship with them. You owe it to yourself to feel the joy of sharing your appreciation and receiving their gratitude in return.

What’s Next?

Why not start the new year with the intention to continue to build and maintain your important relationships, and to begin improving your relationships with family and friends you may have neglected?

Prioritizing relationships may then seem less like something you have to resolve to do every new year and more like a natural, evolving part of your daily life.

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If you’re ready to make your relationships a priority and move toward increasing closeness and connections in your life, I would like to help.  Please contact me at (512) 270-4883 ext. 103 or request an appointment with me on the RCC Austin Scheduling page so we can discuss how to cooperatively achieve your relationship goals as quickly and effectively as possible. I look forward to hearing from you.

Which Love Language is Your Partner's? Why It Matters That You Master It

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

According to author, Gary Chapman, there are five love languages for couples; five primary ways individuals demonstrate their love for one another.

Although his theory isn’t based on scientific research, it is backed by more than 30 years of anecdotal evidence from Chapman’s experience as a marriage and couples counselor.

Chapman identifies the following love languages:

1.       Receiving Gifts

2.       Quality Time

3.       Words of Affirmation

4.       Physical Touch

5.       Acts of Service

In Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, he outlines ways to decipher the individual language both you and your partner speak. Believing that these languages are embedded within each person at a young age, he’s confident they hold the key to developing healthy relationships.

What does this all mean for you? How can you tell which love language your partner speaks? What is your own love language? Furthermore, why is it important?

How to Identify Your Partner’s Love Language

Learning another ‘language’ is one thing but identifying the language and understanding it is completely different. Here are some tips on how to home in on the love languages you and your partner speak.

Look for Excitement

Observe your partner in everyday activities. Is there something that really makes them smile? Do they get excited over a certain behavior or action of another person? Can you tell when something is genuinely meaningful to them?

For example, one partner got as exuberant as a child every time their partner brought home fresh donuts on Saturday mornings. Or, consider the partner who consistently let out a sigh of relief and relaxed as the couple held hands.

These tiny moments are clues into which love language your partner speaks. Take these moments and connect the dots back to the love language.

Pinpoint What Upsets Them

As you observe what is meaningful to your partner, remember to look at the negative responses, as well.

Take note of the behavior and situations that upset them. Listen for a theme in their complaining or frustrating moments.

For example, one partner was easily upset when a device would interrupt the conversation. In this case, it may be worth considering Quality Time as their love language.

Why Your Partner’s Love Language Matters

More than simply “getting along,” here are two important reasons to learn which love language your partner speaks.

Establishes Guidelines in the Relationship

Relationships work better with guidelines to clarify each partner’s needs and personal boundaries.

Without guidelines, you and your partner have no map to give you direction on how to show your love in a way that has meaning to the other. It’s a situation where neither of you know how to show the other love.

Furthermore, no matter how hard you try to express your love, your partner may not even understand what you’re trying to do. They may even misinterpret your action as having some other motive.

These types of misunderstandings could easily cause rifts in your relationship.

Keep Their “Emotional Tank” Full

According to Chapman, the most vital reason for learning which love language your partner speaks is to avoid their emotional gas tank becoming empty.

Close relationships and even casual human interactions—at the office, in the home, in line at the store, etc.—they all require a certain amount of emotional energy. When a person gives and gives without having their emotional gas tank replenished, burnout can happen.

Think of a vehicle sputtering to the side of the road, all out of fuel.

As a couple, you each have the responsibility of keeping not only your own tank full, but also your partner’s.

Another way to think of this concept is as if you’re making deposits into what John Gottman calls an emotional bank account. When the account is kept full, your partner is at maximum emotional strength.

Nurturing a relationship can be tricky. Furthermore, it’s no small feat to pinpoint which love language makes sense to your partner, and then speak it! However, with attunement and intention, you can definitely learn.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern is a couples therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you’d like help in strengthening the connection between you and your partner, and learn more about “love languages” in your relationship, please contact Mirela by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Top 10 Self-Care Tips to Take You Into the New Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

As the new year begins, many people start thinking about New Year’s goals and resolutions, or how they can better themselves in the months ahead.

Focusing on taking better care of yourself can make it easier to complete the other goals that are important to you.

Follow these 10 self-care tips as you enter the new year, and you’ll undoubtedly see how much easier it will be to keep up with your plans and goals for the new year and feel great while doing it.

1. Find a Support System

Everyone needs a strong support system in life, no matter what they’re going through. Whether this year has been rough for you, or you just need a group of people you can depend on when you’re feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to reach out for support when needed. You don’t have to go through anything alone!

2. Be Physically Active

You don’t need to have a weight loss resolution to have a reason to hit the gym. Being physically active can help with so many different things—strength, mood, and confidence, to name a few!

Keep in mind that being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean getting a gym membership. Do something that you enjoy to make sure you’ll stick with it. It could be something as simple as an evening walk or joining a dance class. Get moving, and you’ll feel more energized.

3. Be More Compassionate

Being more compassionate toward yourself and others is a great character trait that will not only help you to feel better but will easily rub off on others, too.

When you show compassion and empathy, even when it’s difficult to do so, you’ll feel satisfied and fulfilled.

4. Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is inevitable in today’s world, but it shouldn’t completely take over your life. Too much stress can lead to things like anxiety and depression.

While you may not be able to eliminate stress from your life completely, think about which self-care tips you can implement to reduce your stress levels. Deep breathing exercises and meditation are great options that can help to combat stress each day.

5. Get More Sleep

An important part of self-care is getting more sleep. As a society in general, most of us aren’t getting the sleep we need. 

Getting adequate, restful sleep each night will help to give you energy, ease anxiety, reduce stress, and keep you healthier. Do whatever you can to create a calm, relaxing sleep space for yourself, and commit to going to bed 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you typically do.

6. Strengthen Relationships – In Person!

Social media is great for keeping in touch with people and staying connected to friends and family you may not get to see as frequently as you would like.

Even so, strive to strengthen your in-person relationships in the new year. Talking to someone face- to-face will make you feel less isolated, and you might be surprised at how different that person’s life looks (and how your own life looks) when it’s not filtered through a Facebook or Instagram post.

7. Put Down Your Phone

Speaking of more real-world interaction, try to ditch technology more often. Smartphones can be great resources for many things, but they’re also extremely distracting.

By staying off your phone at work, you can be more productive during the day. By putting it away at home, you can focus your attention on your spouse, your children, and even yourself. The less you’re on your phone, the more you can be in the present moment, which can help to reduce stress.

8. Let Go of Negativity

It isn’t always easy to let go of things – especially things that have been holding us down. However, letting go of the negative things in your life, or things you can’t control, will allow you to feel a sense of peace and freedom.

Whether it’s certain people, a specific situation, or something else that’s out of your control, it’s important to put it behind you in the coming year. By prioritizing self-care tips that help you do that, you’ll likely notice your negativity and stress levels go down.

9. Speak Positively To Yourself

A big part of self-care is positive self-talk. You might think it sounds silly at first but think about the things you tell yourself daily. Chances are, you “talk” to yourself more than you realize.

Unfortunately, many people only focus on the negative things they tell themselves. Maybe you tell yourself you’re not good enough, smart enough, etc. Try to turn that negative self-talk into something positive. By speaking positivity into your life, you can build your confidence and self-esteem. Soon, that will carry over into other areas of your life.

10. Take Time to Reflect

It may not always feel like it, but you’re constantly growing and learning. Now that the last year has come to an end and you’re entering a new 12-month period, think about everything you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned. Think about how much you’ve grown from this point last year.

You can take those reflections with you into the new year, acknowledging areas where you can continue to grow, and accepting the fact that you’re getting stronger all the time.

The more you choose to value yourself and practice these self-care tips, the better this year (and many years to come) can be.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Mirela works with both couples and individuals to overcome challenging moments and move toward a purposeful and fulfilling path. For help creating more positive changes in your life, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How to Communicate Your Boundaries While Talking Politics

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

You know how it goes.

Something major happens in government, media, or on the global stage. Then, the next day (after a night of cable news and scrolling through Facebook headlines), you may find yourself with coworkers, or out for a drink with friends, or having dinner with your partner or another family member, when the political topic comes up and the conversation starts to get heated.

Passionate opinions fly, points of view clash, and tension spills over as you each try to make the other person see your side of things.

Sound familiar?  

We Don’t Talk Anymore: Why is it so hard to talk about politics without putdowns?

If there was ever a time when broaching a political discussion at the dinner table or at a social event was taboo, it is certainly a mindset that has been long forgotten. Today, topics of current news, politics, and religion are a pretty standard talking in many homes and social circles. While it’s true that the occasional friendly debate between family and good friends can be mentally stimulating, and even fun, discussions of politics have a reputation for quickly crossing the line from civil to contentious. Unfortunately, the evolution of social media and our recent elections seem to have struck, played, and frayed everyone’s political nerves.

Having a conversation about politics that is both passionate and civil is something many of us have little experience with, especially when the topics are close to home and emotions are running high. With social media sites acting as primary sources of news for many of us, controversial posts or hurtful comments by friends might be more prevalent in our newsfeeds. Due to the removed nature of posting a comment online, versus saying it in-person to someone directly, many of us have become more comfortable expressing our opinions about the current state of public affairs. While it’s important to stay true to yourself and your personal values, a lack of restraint when discussing controversial topics and opinions doesn’t always play well in the real world.

How Boundaries Help

All of this leads us to the need for boundaries. Boundaries are a must, especially when talking about politics or any sensitive subject. They go a long way in preserving relationships of all sorts, including those at work or relationships more intimate in nature.

A person’s emotional investment in a topic or area of life deserves respect. Not because you agree or support that point-of-view, but simply because we all want and need to operate freely and reach our own conclusions.

Boundaries that are clearly communicated, and held firmly, help preserve basic human dignity. This is important because we’ve seen too often, that respect tends to wither in the heat of passionate positions and in the absence of agreed-upon guidelines.

People can quickly resort to anger and relationship-damaging behavior if they don’t consider their individual limits and communicate them very clearly before jumping into political talking points.

How Can You Communicate Boundaries Effectively (before things go off the rails)?

Accept and Allow That It’s OK to Disagree.

Give yourself room to accept that your relationship allows for dual perspectives and realities.  In any relationship, it’s important that you quickly come to grips with this truth: You both have your own subjective reality and you both have equally valid perspectives.

Being in a relationship, with your partner or anyone else, is not about asserting how right you are  or wrong they are, but how much you value each other’s right to free thought, speech, and expression. Throughout your discussion, clearly state that you will listen and engage if your interaction is fair and reciprocal. When you sense you no longer have a voice, feel free to stop the discussion, walk away if you must, and share the reasons why. Agreeing that you disagree is certainly a more positive way to get back on track with your relationship with the other person, than continuing a fiery conversation that could damage your connection and friendship.

Respect Your Own Need to De-escalate and Drop Hot Topics Until Tempers Cool

Directly and firmly step away if the conversation becomes too heated. Dropping your political points for another discussion, or stepping out for a breath of fresh air, gives you the recognized ability to put on the brakes when you feel it’s necessary.

If you find your discussion partner is following you around the room trying to re-engage, you have the right to more obviously set a limit on the intensity of the conversation. Call a timeout, state that you can’t continue to have an escalated discussion with them and seek out a change of scenery to aid your peace of mind. If the relationship is important to you, tell them that the relationship means more to you than trying to win them over to your perspective.

Call Out Tendencies to Demonize, Degrade, or Dismiss Each Other

In the course of political conversations, you may realize that you and the other person in the discussion have extremely different worldviews, many different conclusions about where the world is headed, or very different ways of seeing the same politician. As bothered and irritated that may make you both, personal attacks as a result of your differences do too much relationship damage.

Don’t let boundary-breaking disrespect slide by unacknowledged. Especially without attempts to repair the relationship. Stopping to address name-calling, derogatory language, or put-downs lets your conversation partner know that passionate politics isn’t a pass for bullying and offensive behavior.

Insist on a Sense of Humor

The discussions you’re having are serious. The needs of the world, your country, and your community are great. For many, they are overwhelming. It can be easy to think that your ideas need to be heard and taken seriously. Your discussion partner likely feels the same way. You may also find that you continually reach a communication impasse.

Humor (not sarcasm or “hostile humor”) has a way of soothing tensions, relaxing that sense of “nose-to-nose” conflict, and re-opening your listening ears to each other.

Be the first to smile, make a humorous observation, or in some way interject a bit of fun into your exchange. This honors the conversation and both of your opinions, while still allowing you to communicate boundaries regarding tone and healthy perspectives.

Limits and Political Conversation Can Coexist… (if you’re careful and conscious)

Having different political views from your partner, family members, and co-workers co-worker, can be frustrating, even infuriating at times! When you feel strongly about certain social issues and governmental leadership, it can seem like the differences are too great to support worthwhile interaction.

Don’t give up on political conversations, just reconsider how you have them.

Learning to set boundaries from the outset can alleviate tension, promote confidence, and affirm the relationship, priming your minds for a less emotional conversation and a more thoughtful, engaged discussion.

Politics is only divisive if we allow it to be.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more ideas on productive communication and help navigating the political climate, please feel free to contact her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Mantras for Meditation: 8 Statements to Boost Your Self-Esteem

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Everyone has their own mantras for meditation. Words and phrases you tell yourself routinely. Some serve you well…others, not so much.

What about you? How well do speak of and to yourself?

Are you a friend to the rumpled person in the bathroom mirror? Do you soothe your inner employee after a misstep at work? Are you kind and supportive to your inner self when a friend or loved one lets you down or walks away?

Too many of us are complicit in kicking ourselves when we’re down. We automatically, and often unconsciously, undermine our own self-esteem with put-downs, routine criticisms, or everyday disapproval. We feed negative self-talk in our minds so often that authentic self-confidence is hard to come by when we need it.

Fortunately, we don’t have to go on this way.

Self-talk is changeable.

Your self-perception can be bolstered, and negativity overpowered, with some well-chosen words and intentional thoughts. Your personal, internal script can encourage positivity and self-love, which can be called to mind whenever you need them.

What are these magic words? We call them “mantras.” And better than magic, the happiness they can bring you won’t disappear. They do the most mental good when you focus on them, meditating on your own kind thoughts until they drive away any tendency to beat yourself up or question your worth.

How do you know what to say?

Take some time to think about what you want and how you want to experience your life. What matters, what gets in your way? Allow yourself the freedom to say out loud what you long for and what inspires you.

Ready to learn a few mantras and meditation statements? Modify these as you see fit, and then memorize to make your mind your friend again:

8 Powerful Self-esteem Mantras for Meditation

  1. I love myself. I am beautiful. My spirit is unique. There is just one me.

  2. I am enough, worthy of friendship and love, just as I am.

  3. My value is not diminished by my imperfections or the perceptions of others.

  4. I am deserving of good things, happiness, and joy. It is okay to want them for myself.

  5. I can choose to think uplifting thoughts. I appreciate the power of my own self-talk.

  6. My mistakes and failures make me stronger, braver, and wiser.

  7. I am becoming the person I want to be. I work toward honesty and authenticity.

  8. My decisions are my own. I stand behind my words and deeds. My path is my choice. 

  9. I choose the people who surround me. I welcome in those who love and respect me, and respect themselves.

Using your Self-Confidence/Self-Esteem Mantras

Over the next few weeks, select one of these mantras for meditation, or create one of your own. Try to make it a part of your self-talk, replacing negative thoughts a little more each day.

Of course, if you sense the mantra isn’t affording you much support or healthy benefits, give yourself permission to change things up. Some mantras fit best at certain times in your life and some won’t match your unique style or personality. That’s okay.  Seek the words that affirm you and make you feel loved. Even a line of poetry or favorite song will do.

Remember, what the outside world thinks of you is just opinion. Often perceptions by others reflect who they are and what is happening in their lives more than anything else. Use your mantras to define yourself and who you know you are. You have that right. Enjoy it!

Finally, if you need help finding mantras that bringing you joy and encouragement, you may want to reach out to a therapist for support. Together you can work on ways to treat yourself well and infuse the kind of self-appreciation into your life you’ve always deserved.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to explore their own personal growth and regain a positive self-perception. To learn more about how to create an effective internal script for yourself, give Jill a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Understanding the Importance of your Family of Origin

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

Your beginnings matter.

The who and how of your initial life experiences made lasting impressions that ripple through your life today. For better or worse, your family of origin is the place to start for key information about who you are and how you relate to others.

For all of us, the family dynamics in our original family system impact our values, core beliefs, and our self-perceptions.

Long after childhood, how we were once socialized and nurtured continues to guide us. Moreover, the traumas and challenges we navigated within our families at a young age deserve careful exploration. It is an integral way to improve self-awareness and internal understanding.

For some of us, our “family of origin” is simply the family we grew up with. For others, your family of origin includes important caretakers or may even include a first social group, depending on aspects of your culture, social class, and other societal factors that affect who was responsible for raising you.

Overall, the family of origin relationships are profound, initial influences on your decision-making, investment in relationships, and overall sense of well-being.  

Let’s consider in more detail, the importance and impact your family of origin may have on you:

The Importance of Family of Origin

Exploring your family of origin can improve understanding of how your family impacts your relationships now and how to make important changes. Though highly influential, early problems do not have to continually impact your current and future relationships in a negative manner.

Optimally, on a basic level, members of a family should expect that they are worthy of positive and respectful interaction and encouragement. When this works well, the following dynamics are also common:

  • An expectation of physical, emotional, and psychological safety are givens.

  • Each member is empowered to identify as both a family member and an individual.

  • Each family member is empowered to grow into adulthood, with all the responsibilities and consequences that accompany adult choices.

  • Manipulation, aggression, and violation of relationship boundaries are not tolerated or supported.

  • Each family member has a voice, even if a member’s voice is a dissenting one.

However, families rarely execute all of this perfectly.

Depending on how far your caregivers or parents fell short of providing a beneficial environment for your emotional and social development, you may be suffering from issues connected to relationship attachment, emotional safety and expression, anxiety, and beyond. In essence, your family of origin is the standard by which you measure your relationships.

For example, a cycle of neglect and anxiety early on, makes it feel natural to read withdrawal or abandonment into adult relationships later. Unhealthy coping behaviors must be unlearned. Healthy perspectives must replace them.

This isn’t easy. However, it’s worth the work to avoid repeating the negative patterns of your early life.

The Impact of Family of Origin

Still unconvinced that family of origin has such a long-term impact on adults? Let’s consider how the problems below link to early socialization.

Enmeshment Stifles and Suffocates Your Personal Growth

Some families of origin are too close. You may have grown up in a family that brooks no movement away from the family traditions, culture, religion, political beliefs, or resources. You may feel resentful but unprepared for life away from your family. This can lead to depression, broken relationships, and a lack of personal motivation throughout your adult years.

Early High-Conflict, Unstable Relationships Impact Your Ability to Communicate Now

If you grew up exposed to yelling and intense interaction, you may feel that sort of communication is normal or acceptable. Unhealthy relationships and conflict may result in damage to your marriage, work relationships, and friendships. Perhaps, all relationships feel unsafe and untrustworthy to you.

Childhood Trauma can Disrupt Self-perception & Socialization

The after effects of abuse or tragedy are varied and often deeply rooted. Low self-esteem, intimacy issues, depression, and anxiety are common. Working with an experienced therapist is very important for understanding the core beliefs and defense mechanisms activated and affected by physical and/or psychological trauma at an early age.

Experiencing Neglect, Indifference, or an Absence of Love

Did you grow up physically cared for but emotionally neglected? Then you likely made assumptions about your worth. You likely wondered if something was wrong with you, if you were unlovable, or whether you even had a right to love.

As an adult, you may struggle to accept love or trust affection from others, especially a significant other. Or, you may swing hard the other direction. Perhaps you are clingy or demanding, attempting to secure the love you never had.

Awareness through examination of your family of origin gives perspective. Also, you gain the ability to be less reactionary and more intentional about love and relationships. It is critical to get a handle on how your experiences have impacted you. Learn how to create new beliefs, adjust thought patterns, and change behaviors where necessary.
If you’re struggling to determine why you feel a sense of being stuck in your life, professional support can make a difference.

Healing the Past and Creating a New Path

Finally, addressing family of origin issues can help you to live a richer, more deeply connected life. Patterns that negatively impact your relationships and self-image deserve your attention sooner, rather than later. Understanding and resolving your early wounds can help you to gain the internal peace and freedom you long for.

Moving forward with support and the proper tools can bring healing and emotional well-being.

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If you are ready to address your family of origin problems or concerns, please contact Dr. Sarah Wilson, LMFT Associate, at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at (512) 270-4883, ext. 104, or by requesting an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Reducing Family Arguments, Conflict, and Debate: 5 Tips to Keep Friction to a Minimum

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By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

A family is a complicated thing.  Gathered around a holiday meal or celebrating a mutual milestone, your family may experience a host of highs and lows as you navigate a myriad of emotions and perspectives about each other’s respective lives.

Family members are usually the people who love us, support us, and encourage us. However, they can also be the people with whom we fight the most.

Why are family arguments often more stressful than other arguments? To start with, it can feel terrible to fight with the people who know us the best. Moreover, your conflicts may be rooted in long-standing, unresolved issues that can bubble to the surface during family gatherings and sudden close, daily interaction.

Even if you aren’t actually discussing those old issues, they can play a role in how you feel about each other. Most of us don’t want to feel resentful or angry with those closest to us. Therefore, it is beneficial to learn how to keep friction to a minimum. Here are five helpful tips for the holidays and beyond:

1. Simply Don’t Engage

It takes two people to argue. If you refuse to participate in the argument, it can’t go anywhere. By not responding or reacting, you diffuse the situation.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. Your family members know exactly how to get under your skin. If they are used to arguing with you in a certain way, then they will be uncomfortable when you don’t engage. Therefore, they may try even harder to pull you into the argument.

If at all possible, disengage. Options include:

  • Taking slow, deep breaths until you can respond calmly

  • Counting backward from ten (or one hundred!)

  • Doing a body scan to notice tension and release it

  • Telling your family member that you need time to think about what they’ve said

  • Respectfully stating that you don’t want to have a disagreement, and calmly walking away

2. Ask Questions

Arguments happen because both people believe they are right. You are each locked into your own positions. Moreover, you are trying to change the other person’s mind. Instead, try becoming curious about the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree with them, but you can work to understand them without trying to change their opinion. As you soften your position by getting to know theirs, they may do the same for you.

3. Use “I” Statements

Speak from a place of your own truth. State what you think, feel, and believe. However, make it clear that you know that this is just your experience. Express an interest in sharing your experience without blaming, shaming, or arguing. Use the following framework:

  • I feel (blank)

  • When (blank happens)

  • This makes me want to (blank)

  • I’d like to do (blank) instead

For example, “I feel anxious when people start raising their voices. This makes me want to run away. I’d like to be able to have a quiet conversation instead.” This is more effective than, “You are so mean, and if you yell at me again, I’m leaving.”

4. Use “Yes, and” Statements

Another effective way to reduce family arguments is to agree with everyone. Acknowledge that they have a valid point of view. Use, “yes, and” statements to convey that you are on their side. At the same time, these statements allow you to speak your truth.

For example, let’s say that your brother-in-law calls you selfish. You can argue until your blue in the face about how unselfish you are. However, he will probably not agree. Instead, try saying, “yes, sometimes I can be a little bit selfish, and I do that because I am scared that if I don’t stand up for myself, then no one else will.”

5. Open Up Communication Slowly and Steadily

The midst of an argument is not the time to resolve big family issues. It takes time and hard work to solve family arguments. Therefore, start slowly. Begin by just opening up to your family members in small ways. Share more of yourself. Over time, it will become easier for everyone to calmly share their truths.

There are many underlying issues that lead to family arguments. Therapy can help you identify the issues, work toward resolution and understanding, and learn how to make family gatherings the joy you know they can be.

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Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Lauren’s use of mindfulness practices in her therapeutic approach helps her clients enter a state of mind which is calm, receptive, and balanced. To schedule your appointment with Lauren, you can reach her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 114, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How to Make Your Date Nights More Mindful

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

No matter how long you and your partner have been together, the benefits of a regular and refreshing date night can do your relationships a lot of good. Especially if you can come together mindfully and mentally ready to focus on nourishing your relationship. 

Mindfulness can be one of the loveliest gifts partner’s give each other. The practice of being present can help you get the most out of your date nights. Finding ways to remain aware and in tune with each other will fuel a deeper sense of connection, confidence in your bond, and anticipation regarding upcoming dates.

Enjoy an overall boost in your individual enjoyment and the wellbeing of your relationship. Consider the following ways to incorporate mindfulness in your date night routine:

Know Yourself & Elevate Your Energy

Pay attention to your emotions, attitude, and energy. They directly impact your enjoyment, ability to engage and mutual experience.

If you are feeling frustrated with your partner or are overwhelmed by work responsibilities, the date will probably not go well.

Take some time before the date to be quiet and still. Observe the tension in your body and the flow of your thoughts. Breathe deeply and allow the negative energy to dissipate. Inhale calm, exhale negativity. Concentrate on the positive aspects of your relationship. Let go of negative self-talk. 

You may even want to track your emotions and thoughts with a journal. The practice of being honest with yourself fosters an increased tendency to be open and honest with your partner. The better you know and understand yourself, the better partner you can be.

Practice Present, Conscious Communication

Date night is an excellent opportunity for meaningful, mindful conversation. Use the time to get a clear picture of your partner’s feelings and needs. Try the following to support and encourage closeness and caring interaction:
Ask questions like, “how do you feel right now?” and “what do you need from me?” Really listen and consider the responses with interest and compassion.

Avoid making assumptions or passing judgments about each other’s perspectives. It’s easy to think you know your partner so well that you can read their mind and emotions without much effort, however this practice can lead to shallow connection over time.

Instead, be intentional about taking the time to be curious and observant of your partner’s passions, needs, and perspectives.  Put away your smartphones and other distractions to focus in.

Expand your Options, Take your Time & Pay Attention

To truly enjoy date nights, slow down and pay attention to the moments you’re sharing. This is often better accomplished by choosing dates that are less passive and more prone to active engagement.

Fewer movies and more dancing, visits to an art museum, or picnics along a hiking trail will give you opportunities to enjoy one another. You can see each other in new ways, observe each other in various contexts, and continue to learn about each other’s preferences, hidden talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

Set Reasonable Expectations, Relax, and Enjoy!

Often partners don’t recognize that they have overblown expectations for the one night they set aside to connect. While date night is great for the emotional health of your relationship, don’t put too much pressure on yourselves or each other to solve all the unresolved issues of your union.  Allow date night to be a tool by keeping the following in mind:

  • Don’t try to accomplish too much. Reserve this time for connection and refreshment of your relationship. Enjoy the date for what it is and move forward.

  • Balance your expectations. Go on your date expecting to have fun and deepen your friendship. Share your wants and needs but don’t make demands. Keep communication open and supportive.

  • Smile, laugh and play together.

Let the date ebb and flow easily. Don’t focus on controlling each other or the activity. Make space to relax and see where the date takes you.

Take Time to Reflect

After your date nights, take some time to reflect on your time together. Use your journal to reflect personally. Share with a therapist as a couple. Reflection and sharing with an objective counselor can provide insight and improve your connection, shoring up the foundation of your relationship as you go along.

Date nights are only meaningful if you and your partner are actually engaged and intentional about tuning in mentally, physically,  and emotionally. Use mindfulness to take care of yourselves and refocus on each other. The more self-aware, relationship conscious, and curious you can be, the more enjoyable your date nights will be, and your relationship will blossom.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Jill specializes in helping couples restore intimacy and communicate effectively with one another about feelings, needs, and desires. To schedule your appointment with Jill, contact her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.