How Healthy Boundaries Provide Just the Right Amount of Distance to Connect You

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Navigating close relationships can be tricky.

Especially close relationships with family members.  Often, you come together for winter holidays, graduations, baby showers or other milestones. And all you want is to gather for some low-conflict, person-to-person bonding. One big happy family. But before long, you may find that your family experiences what many others do.

Your father inevitably crosses a line at the Labor Day barbecue, your sister betrays a confidence at Christmas dinner, or your mother-in-law becomes a critic at your daughter’s June wedding. And eventually, your family’s gatherings become an experiment in all the ways you can get on each other’s nerves.

Why?

What’s blocking the path to family harmony?

Honestly, lots of personalities exist in families. Everyone has a shared history but there are also many individual hang-ups, opinions, issues, and backstories at play.

Sometimes the lack of boundaries creates enmeshed family units that have a hard time dealing with each other, unless they are all thinking the same way and deeply connected to the status quo. Other families guilt and blame each other (or certain members) for the trials of the entire group. Still, others maintain a hostile or disrespectful environment despite attempts to come together.

You don’t really need to manage all of that. However, a strong grasp on healthy boundaries could help you manage your own expectations and enjoy your family as much as possible.

Healthy Boundaries: what they are and how they can make your relationships better

Healthy boundaries? No doubt you’ve heard of them. They sound really good to most people.

Limits and parameters seem just the thing to help keep the peace and to promote the harmony you long for, especially in some of your more trying relationships.

“So, great,” you think, let’s “set some boundaries.” Easy, right?

Maybe. But if you’re like so many people who’ve grown up in families that made do without them, then setting firm boundaries may be a foreign concept.

That’s okay. With some loving persistence and knowledgeable guidance, boundaries can help you and yours relate confidently with ongoing connection rather than conflict as the primary goal.

  • What do healthy boundaries do exactly?

The beauty of setting boundaries is that they help you maintain personal values, respect, and emotional safety.

Sometimes families think the blood connection means anything goes. No punches are pulled. Too much is said. But that perspective can lead to families that become more and more toxic, damaged, or distant as time goes on.

Healthy boundaries can be relationship life preservers, keeping you safe in a flood of family upset, drama, or undue influence. Holding to your heathy boundaries will still allow you to reach out and maintain those relationships that are important to you.

  • What healthy boundaries are not

Keep in mind, too, healthy boundaries are not about making demands, power struggles, punishment, or shaming each other into compliance or silence. Limits in relationships aren’t concrete walls meant to stop you from connecting. They are more like hedges or picket fences that invite conversation and interaction, with just enough separation between you to make you think about whether it’s wise to enter another person’s space and prevent trampling each other’s values.

If the boundaries are respected, the hedges can stay low. If not, boundaries afford you a safe point of negotiation. You can clearly decide the nature of your relationship and interaction going forward.

Many couples, siblings, blended families, and groups of in-laws discover that scheduling some time with an objective, experienced family therapist or counselor is advantageous as you work to become more aware of the parameters you want to set in your relationships. Learning to recognize and honor the limits of relationships makes the entire family feel safe with their histories honored and their needs respected.

Healthy boundaries work if you remain curious, compassionate, and cooperative

In addition to tuning into what respectful, comfortable boundaries look like, you’ll become more capable of recognizing boundary breeches addressing them, and handling relationship repair without creating a lot of drama in your family. This holds true in your other relationships, as well. 

How? Healthy boundaries require promotion, protection, and encouragement of the individual, as well as the collective. Why have a family reunion if uniting feels emotionally exhausting or unsafe?

  • Stay curious. Ask questions and listen to each other. Does everyone feel valued and accepted? Is there manipulation, aggression, or resentment among you? Who has a voice and who doesn’t?
  • Setting healthy boundaries takes some courage and awareness. You’ll need to be brave enough to change the status quo and vulnerable enough to ask for cooperation.
  • Setting boundaries is tough work sometimes. You may have to bite your tongue at times to honor each other’s choices. Boundaries may need to allow for less family tradition and more individuality. Negotiated guidelines may need to address how to best deal with unacceptable behavior in the most loving way possible.

Most of all, boundaries allow everyone to take care of themselves and to be themselves, without pressure to accept behaviors or situations that are personally intolerable or becoming part of a mind-meld that doesn’t meet your needs. 
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Are you ready to put healthy boundaries in place in your relationships? Are there other changes you would like to make in your relationships? Linda Ramsey, MA, is a licensed professional counselor intern and licensed marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with couples and families to help them building and maintain healthy connections. If you are seeking support and guidance as you establish healthy boundaries for yourself, contact Linda at 512-270-4883, ext. 106, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

Always Ranting and Reacting? How to Ensure More Effective Communication in Your Relationships

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By Carlene Lehmann, MA

While effective communication may come easily for some, it is far more difficult for others.

What about you?

Does it seem that communicating with others is increasingly difficult and disrespectful? Do your disagreements feel less like interacting and more like overreacting? Are your rants making their way into your everyday conversations more and more?

You’re not alone. Communication can be tough for many of us, especially when our emotions take over.

What gets in the way?

Communication is often complex because the way information is shared varies from person to person, depending on a variety of factors. The unique nature of our relationships, our family of origin, our pasts, our circumstances, our communication styles, as well as our emotional needs, impact how we communicate. Moreover, a lot of this happens under the surface, in split seconds, without our awareness. And maybe, too often, adversely affects what we say and how we say it.

Learning to be a more effective, compassionate, and respectful communicator might be one of the best investments you make in yourself.

Finding ways to tune into your own issues and needs while employing proven, effective communication tools is vital. You can fulfill your need to be heard and understood while capably influencing and engaging the people in your life.

So, instead of unproductively ranting or overreacting, consider using these communication tools:

Be an active listener

Effective communication is a two-way street; you can’t be a good communicator by insisting on being the only one speaking. You need to find a happy medium of give and take in a conversation.

Finding a way to really tune in is crucial because listening demonstrates respect and self-control. It honors the other person’s point of view and their right to speak without being dismissed, interrupted, or shut down.

However, be aware, active listening is not quietly waiting to speak. Active listening is not simply hearing the other person’s words. Active listening is not formulating your response while the other person talks. It means ensuring you understand the message the other person is trying to relay.

Active listening involves hearing the import of what is being communicated to you, asking questions for clarity (not debate), summarizing what you think they mean, and asking if you have the correct understanding before responding with your own thoughts.

Focus on your nonverbal communication

What you don’t say is just as important as what you do, so it’s important that your actions and behaviors match your words. Try to establish rapport and connection with your body. Lean in, look at the person speaking in an interested and open manner, relax your body, nod in understanding.

Avoid rolling your eyes, shrugging, and folding your arms. These communicate disrespect, disinterest, or even disdain. Communication is meant to connect not create distance. Be careful to show that you want to do more than make your own point. Signal that you are willing to be fully present and engaged physically and mentally.

Take responsibility for your reactions

Effective communicators are responsive rather than reactive. Take charge of the way you behave and reply to others. Don’t allow someone else’s differing, offensive, defensive, or divisive position to determine your ability to communicate well.

You own your responses and you are responsible for your reactions. When you practice self-control and mindful awareness you can slow down the temptation to react without thinking.  If you’re feeling attacked or overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a step back from the conversation and temper your response with introspection. Then, reconvene when you feel emotionally grounded and able to hear and share effectively.

Be clear and concise

When you state your needs, it’s crucial to be as straightforward as possible. Do your best to leave little room for interpretation so that the other person thoroughly understands your intentions. If you’re having a difficult conversation, it can be intimidating to state your needs with this much vulnerability. However, misunderstanding can keep you and your conversation partner from ensuring your needs are met and impede vulnerability in future interactions.

Just as you would want the whole truth when you’re listening, do all you can to present the full picture when you’re speaking.

Agree with the feelings, if not the perceived facts

It’s not your responsibility to agree with everything that’s presented to you in a conversation. Conflict happens. You and your friend, sibling, parent, spouse, co-worker, etc. won’t always see eye-to-eye. That is totally okay. Instead of agreeing with the facts, try relating to the feelings.

For instance, you don’t have to sanction their conclusions, but you should try to understand the feelings and emotions. You don’t have to agree with the position of your partner, family, friends, or co-workers, but simply try to understand and voice compassion. You may share similar feelings of concern with the topic being discussed. Start there.

The factors contributing to your opinions don’t have to be agreed upon, but normal, human feelings can provide common ground.

Effective communication is vital for a happier, more connected life.

If you don’t feel confident in the way you communicate with others, you can take steps that can lead to more effective communication skills. Read books or watch videos on effective communication and improving listening skills. Join a group that works to improve speaking and leadership skills. Or, seek guidance from a professional who can help you uncover your communication weaknesses and support you as you learn new tools and skills for effective communication in all your relationships.
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Carlene Lehmann, MA, is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She helps couples and individuals learn effective communication skills, emotion regulation skills, and how to improve relationships with partners, family, friends, and co-workers. Contact her at 512-270-4883, ext. 105, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

Revenge, Rage, or Restraint? What To Do With Anger After Infidelity

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Recovering from an affair can be excruciating.

It doesn’t matter if you were the one betrayed or the one who did the betraying. Healing can prove to be a difficult journey. And along the path to healing, you will likely feel a great deal of anger after infidelity.

Sometimes, your anger might feel like a need for revenge and other times it could even feel like a rush of humiliated rage. While these feelings are natural, dealing with them in a healthy way might not come easily.

Here are a few tips on what to do with your post-affair anger.

Uncovering Your Anger

If you’re like most people, you probably agree that anger doesn’t often seem to need uncovering. Rather, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

You feel mad, right? Yet, there is more to anger than simply being ticked off.

Anger is often an expression of hurt. In terms of an affair, anger is usually the emotion standing center stage like a powerful singer, but it is not the painful emotion driving the song.

Emotions like fear, hurt, guilt, or inadequacy remain hidden behind the stage curtain, but they are the ones actually writing the harsh notes escaping your angry lips. In other words, anger is simply the emotion that upstages your other emotions most of the time. But those other emotions deserve more attention and anger needs more management.

So, how can you deal with the red-faced musician hogging the stage? How do you find relief?

Understanding Why Anger Isn’t the Problem

To be clear, anger is a normal reaction to an affair, both sides of an affair. An affair is traumatic. So, it’s only to be expected that intense feelings bubble up.

Feeling anger is okay. It’s all okay and it’s all natural.

Still, left unchecked by your internal management system, anger can forge a destructive path. It can be harmful to your mental and physical well-being, it can also be harmful to those around you, as you may say or do things in anger that ultimately destroy the relationship.

In short, what you do with your anger remains the issue. Not the anger itself.

Accepting Your Anger After Infidelity

Changing the past isn’t doable. This means that erasing an affair or its fallout isn’t possible either.

But, changing the future is within your control. And, believe it or not, anger has a lot to do with that.

When it comes to anger after infidelity, it’s important to let it come to you as it will. Respect your feelings and adopt a self-validating approach to these uncomfortable emotions.

You feel them for a reason, so allow yourself to feel them completely.

As well as feeling and validating your anger, make a commitment to expressing it. The hard part is knowing how to express your anger in a harmless way for you and others.

How to Express Your Anger

Expressing your anger might feel like you’re doing something wrong. It might even feel a little forbidden. Yet, when expressed appropriately, it can be very healthy.

What does it mean to express your anger appropriately?

For starters, avoid reacting towards another person in the heat of an angry moment. In fact, intense anger often requires a release far away from other people.

If you’re dealing with a whirlwind of toxic pent-up emotions, write it out. You don’t need spell check or even worry that anyone will be read it. Just write what you feel. Feel free to burn it later after you’ve released what you needed to.

Many times, anger is so overwhelming that you have to physically release it. Things like screaming into a pillow, hitting an old couch cushion, or a brisk walk for few minutes all help to release that steam.

If you’re having a hard time dealing with anger after infidelity, do not hesitate to reach out for help from a counseling professional. A counselor who works with couples and individuals in the aftermath of infidelity can help you navigate this tough time, and support you on your path to healing and helpful expression of your emotions.
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Jill Baumgarner, MA, is a licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with couples and individuals to help them heal after relationship infidelity. Contact Jill at 512-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Why Self-Awareness Matters For The Life You Want

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By Roy Faget, MA

Who’s the most important person in the world for you to know? Not your boss, not your lover, not your soul mate. The answer is - YOU! Self-awareness is fundamental to personal growth, good relationships with others, and success in life. Self-awareness is no small thing. Lack of it can break you. Some spiritual traditions even teach that the biggest cause of suffering is not knowing what is going on inside yourself.

We all want to improve our relationships, our occupations, our income, our health, and our happiness. Unless we build our self-awareness, we risk failure before we even start.

What Is Self-awareness?

According to writer and expert Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, people who are self-aware have these abilities:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness. Those who are self-aware recognize their emotions and the impact these emotions have on their lives.
  • Accurate Self-Assessment. Self-aware people can accurately identify their strengths and limitations.
  • Self-Confidence. People who are self-aware know their worth and capabilities.

Though we may think we know these things about ourselves, we often fail to see that emotional triggers are making us act defensively. We may overestimate our abilities and bite off more than we can chew. Or we may underestimate ourselves and assume that we are less capable than we are.

Some research on self-awareness suggests that although most people believe they are self-aware, only 10% to 15% of adults are truly self-aware.

Self-awareness and Your Personal Growth

Self-awareness won’t change your basic temperament. Knowing that you’re closer to the introvert than to the extrovert end of the spectrum won’t suddenly make you the life of the party.

But gaining more emotional self-awareness can help you understand why you feel the way you do in certain situations and suggest better ways to cope.

For example, do you feel anxious in a crowd, but your sales job requires frequent attendance at conventions and trade shows? It would be helpful, then, to understand the reasons for your anxiety before you try to learn the skills you need to cope with your emotions.

Or, you may decide that the stress associated with sales is too much and find a position more compatible with your personality type.

Becoming self-aware opens you to growth by making you aware of how your assumptions and thought patterns can limit you. Knowing who you are gives you the power to choose your perspective. Then, you can act consciously instead of just rolling with the punches life throws at you.

Self-awareness and Your Path to Success

Cultivating self-awareness gives you the insights you need to achieve success in all areas of your life. As a person who is self-aware, you will understand your own thoughts, beliefs, and emotions better. You will also become aware of how others perceive your attitude and responses and be able to make adjustments to avoid any problems or misconceptions.

Self-awareness and Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your strengths will let you use them to get through difficult situations. Understanding your weaknesses will help you pinpoint what you need to do to improve. Facing your strengths and weaknesses with maturity lets you take the bad with the good, forgive yourself, and move forward.

Self-awareness and Understanding How Others See You

Understanding how others see you is key to success. Unless you understand how you are perceived by others you risk having them misunderstand you or alienate them.

Self-awareness and Working with Others

People who are open to the contributions and ideas of others are not only better team players, they’re better leaders. Examining your own actions and thinking about what you personally need to change to solve a problem makes it less likely that you’ll point fingers at others. Self-awareness leads to taking responsibility.

Take the Next Step to Knowing Yourself

To grow personally and achieve success, the best place to start is self-awareness. Knowing your temperament and personality, your emotions, your strengths and weaknesses, and understanding how others see and react to you gives you a sense of who you are. It also shows you a vision of who you want to become.
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Roy Faget, MA, is a counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. He works with couples and individuals to help them understand their emotions and behaviors. If you would like to improve your self-awareness, contact Roy at 512-270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment with him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Is Your Second Marriage Doomed to Fail? Best Ways to Beat the Odds

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

When you marry the first time, there’s usually a special feeling that it will last forever.

When you marry for the second time, however, that feeling may not be there because you’re keenly aware of that your first marriage didn’t last.

Sadly, divorce statistics don’t paint a more encouraging picture for those who have been married before. Some 67% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

With those odds in mind, is your second marriage just doomed to fail? Not necessarily, if you are aware of possible obstacles that may arise, and tools to use to help beat the odds.

The Obstacles to Success

In general, second marriages face various hurdles that first marriages don’t. What are some of those?

Three formidable ones are:

  • Mistrust due to betrayal in the previous marriage

Many of those getting married a second (or third) time are unprepared to enter a new relationship when they do. Often, they are on the rebound, scarred by a previous betrayal, and simply have not allowed themselves enough time to recover from their ordeal. Without having reflected on their experience, and learned from their experience, they may repeat the same mistakes.

  • Living in the shadow of the former spouse

Those getting remarried to someone whose beloved former mate has died may find themselves in a dilemma, living in the shadow of the former spouse. On the receiving end, some feel like they’re constantly being compared to their new spouse’s ex-mate. On the inflicting end, others find they can’t stop talking about their former spouse, eventually causing resentment in their new mates.

  • Tension with extended family and friends

When two people unite that already have extended families and groups of friends, there are a lot more players who can make things stressful and challenging. Blending families, parenting strategies, divided loyalties, long-established activities—there are a number of opportunities for conflict and rivalries. Sometimes, it seems impossible to stay out of the crossfire. Under that kind of barrage, it’s no surprise that communication can break down and adversely affect their relationship.

How to Beat the Odds and Make Your Love Last

Clearly, a second marriage is not a casual undertaking. Despite the odds and obvious obstacles, though, many remarried couples have managed to find lasting love and happiness.

How can you achieve that, too?

  • Nourish trust

Open and honest personal communication between you and your new spouse is vital for nurturing the trust in your second marriage. During these talks, learn to be vulnerable and freely share your concerns and feelings with one another.

If your current spouse was betrayed by their former mate, you can take deliberate steps to demonstrate you’re different. For instance, although you’re not the one who committed the betrayal, you could agree to limit private communication with the opposite sex and with your former mate(s) letting each other know when you will or have had contact with them.

  • Create unity

It’s unrealistic to expect that either of you will simply forget your previous marriage(s). There are memories attached to every relationship we have in life. You can’t just erase them. What you can do, though, is create new and unique memories that build your new identity as a couple by regularly spending time together and focusing solely on each other.

If your new spouse needs to talk about their former mate, don’t hastily conclude that they’re comparing you to them. Instead, when you listen with compassion and empathy, you may learn that the conversation can help you draw much closer to your new mate.

If you’re the one finding yourself thinking or talking about your late ex-mate too much, try to focus on your current spouse’s endearing qualities. Reflecting appreciatively on what you love about your present partner can do much to help strengthen the unity of your new marriage.

  • Practice empathy

You may feel awkward around each other’s old friends and extended family for a time. Try to put yourself in the others’ shoes—both those of your family and friends and your new spouse.

First, show empathy when your present mate feels analyzed by your friends and family members. Moreover, show consideration for your spouse’s feelings when you spend time with old friends so that your mate doesn’t feel excluded.

And, second, show empathy for your family and friends, allowing them time to adjust to new circumstances. After all, your marriage situation changed, so your friendship/relationship dynamics could change as well. Some may not welcome that with enthusiasm.

Most importantly, don’t give up easily. The strength you need to make your second marriage last doesn’t develop overnight. You must approach the situation with a mindset of endurance and a firm determination to stay together.

Many people are proving that they have learned their lessons the first time around. Some have found that putting this knowledge to use with the support of an experienced couple’s counselor, has helped to be even more successful at building a happy and long second marriage.
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Jill Baumgarner, MA, is a licensed professional counselor intern with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Her counseling focus is helping couples through challenging times in their relationship. Contact Jill at 512-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Overwhelmed By Personal Loss? 5 Ways To Help Ease The Pain

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

We often associate personal loss with the death of a loved one. Grief, however, is not confined solely to death. A health crisis, career change, a home sale, or the termination of a relationship or marriage– there are numerous pieces of life, that, through the progression of time, we might eventually lose.

Grieving the parts of life that we once loved and cherished is painful, and the steps we take towards recovery may be very similar to the grieving process of losing a loved one.

Whether it was anticipated or not, don’t diminish the loss you’re experiencing. Instead, use the following five ways to help cope and ease the pain of your personal loss.

1.   Be patient

It’s important that you give yourself the time and space to grieve. There’s no time limit for how long you should feel sad, nor is there a schedule for when you should be experiencing particular emotions. This is a normal time to undergo a wide range of emotions, so try not to judge yourself for feeling the way you do. This is a tough and transitional time, as you may be encountering something foreign for the very first time; remember to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.

2.   Express and share your feelings

Having a support group of close friends and family members is crucial during trying times. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only be harmful to you, in both the short term as well as the long run. You don’t need to share your struggle with coworkers or surface-level friends, but it will be beneficial to confide in those you trust.

You may also consider reaching out to a professional. Getting in touch with a therapist is often beneficial. This doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, but it is helpful to process your feelings with a professional during such times.

3.   Find a positive rather than a negative outlet

Experiencing personal loss elicits a surplus of negative feelings. Thus, it’s crucial that you discover a way to cope with these emotions. Some people turn to drinking, smoking, drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping as a form of relief or distraction, but each of these activities only masks the problem and could eventually lead to an addiction. Instead of turning to one of these, seek healthier options. Journaling, exercising, and practicing self-care are all good alternatives to negative coping mechanisms.

4.   Don’t hold onto regret

Ruminating on thoughts like “I should’ve been more communicative in my marriage,” or “I wish I had gone to the doctor sooner,” won’t change the outcome of your current situation. Of course, you can use what you’ve experienced as a learning opportunity moving forward, but don’t hold onto it as a form of self-punishment. There is nothing you can do to change the past, so instead, try to focus on the future.

5.   Make plans for the future

There is a mourning period for every personal loss, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s important to remain patient during this time. It’s also important, however, to remember that with time, the pain will ease. You will not be in this negative or low emotional state forever. To remind yourself of your potential, positive future, try taking small steps. Look forward to what the future might have in store.

Keep in mind that with change comes growth. It’s okay to look to something better ahead. For instance, if divorce or financial loss requires you to sell your home, get excited about decorating your new one and making it all yours. Explore the new area where you’re going to live; find new restaurants, coffee shops, hiking trails, etc. Allow yourself to be excited about the future without forgetting about the past.

If you’re struggling with a personal loss, remember that recovery and healing with the help of a therapist or a support group can be a valuable part of your process. Hold onto the hope that, with time and the proper coping skills, you can find relief and move ahead with cherished memories and lessons learned.
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Ellen Rohr, M.Ed., is a licensed professional counselor intern and senior-level clinical intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Ellen works with individuals and couples needing assistance getting through challenging times in life. You can schedule an appointment with her by calling  512-270-4883, ext. 103, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment with her.

I Hate My Life! I'm Always Alone! How Do I Make A Change?

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By Carlene Lehmann, MA

Creating and maintaining a social life can be difficult. Most of us have lost friends over the years, made new ones, and lost some again. We’re busy with work and adulthood, but we still crave the social interaction that friendships provide. During transitional periods of life, it’s common to feel alone or a lack in your social life. In fact, a recent study showed that 72% (almost three quarters!) of Americans experience loneliness. The good thing about loneliness, however, is that there’s a solution to it. Make a change in your social life by trying the following five tips:

Find a cause you care about

Think about what makes your heart hurt – what in this world makes you the most upset? Maybe it’s homeless veterans, maybe it’s children of incarcerated parents, or maybe it’s the suicide rate amongst teens. Find the cause that you’re most passionate about and join an organization that seeks to make a change. You will not only feel more fulfilled by volunteering and truly making a difference, you’ll also meet other people who share this same passion. You’ll associate yourself with people who have a heart for the same things, and you’ll automatically share a deeper connection.

Stop glamorizing social media

Although social media is intended to keep people connected, it ironically leaves most of us feeling even more disconnected. When we log onto Facebook or Instagram, we’re bombarded with our “friends” highlight reels – pictures they’ve posted on their very best days. These pictures aren’t indicators of their day-to-day life, but what they want the social media world to believe their day-to-day looks like. These false perceptions can leave us feeling left out or questioning why our lives don’t look like this as well. Try taking a step back from social media. See it for what it truly is – don’t let these outlets fuel your feelings of loneliness.

Try something new

Exploring a new hobby or rediscovering an old one can help you pursue your interests. Take that art class, sign up for that tennis lesson, or join that book club you’ve had your eye on. Like finding a cause you’re passionate about, when you find a hobby you enjoy, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people. Use technology to your advantage and download a community meet up app to look for local group opportunities.

Take initiative

It’s great to get out and try something new with new people, but how about taking it a step further? Making the first move in any kind of relationship (friendships included!) can feel intimidating, but you’ll never know until you try. Fostering friendships with people who share your interests is rewarding, so ask a new friend to grab lunch after your meetup or coffee before your next class. Extend an olive branch and you may be surprised by how well it’s reciprocated.

Change the way you think

Oftentimes the source of our loneliness stems from the way we think about ourselves, or the way we assume others think of us. For example, we’ve all reached out to somebody to make plans, only to be turned down. But after this happens, what do you take from it? Instead of believing that they already had plans, do you just assume they made it up, so they don’t have to spend time with you? Far too many people get into a rut of loneliness by assuming and ruminating on unproductive thoughts along these lines. Instead of overthinking and worrying that people don’t like you – take their response at face value and try again.

If you’re constantly feeling alone, you can make a change to turn things around. If you don’t know where to begin or need some support in the journey, schedule some time with a counselor or therapist. In the safety of a therapeutic relationship, you can hone your communication skills. Therapy can also help you glean some personal insight that can shore up your self-esteem. When you step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised by how far small, intentional steps can take you.
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Carlene Lehmann, MA, is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Contact her for scheduling at 512-270-4883, ext. 105, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

7 Ways Couples Counseling Can Make A Good Marriage Even Better!

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

There’s a preconceived notion that only couples experiencing relationship issues should see a therapist. While couples counseling is recommended for anyone with marital problems, that’s not the only reason to schedule sessions.

Couples counseling is a great way to get to know your spouse on a deeper level while taking preventative measures to combat any potential problems. These seven benefits indicate that your marriage (no matter how troubled or enjoyable) can be supported by quality couples counseling:

1.   Improve communication skills

We all know that communication is a major cornerstone of every relationship, yet it seems to be something we all struggle with at times. This is, perhaps, because each of us has a different style of communication. You and your spouse certainly don’t have to agree on everything, but you should be able to appropriately relay your thoughts and feelings on a specific subject matter. In couples counseling, you will become equipped with the right tools to learn how to communicate effectively, solve problems, and understand the other’s point of view.

2.   Learn more about each other

This may surprise you, but whether you’ve been married 5, 15, or 55 years, there are probably still some things you have yet to discover about your partner. Sure, you may know their favorite clothing brand, how they take their morning coffee, or how to brighten their mood on a bad day, but do you TRULY understand your partner’s needs? Have you re-familiarized yourself with their love maps? Do you know their love language? Couples counseling will allow you and your spouse to connect and understand one another in an even deeper way.

3.   Practice assertiveness over aggression

No matter how healthy your relationship is, there are probably times when you get fed up, irritated, or even angry at one another. Couples counseling can help you to state your needs and get them met without engaging in repetitious arguments.

4.   Learn to acknowledge instead of avoid

Just as some couples handle conflict aggressively, others handle it passively. They like to bury their heads in the sand, pretending a problem doesn’t exist. Conflict is inevitable and is not something to fear. In couples counseling, you and your spouse can have a safe, unfiltered conversation about some issues you tend to slip under the relationship rug.

5.   Open yourself up to vulnerability

You and your partner love each other, right? Are you each other’s most trusted confidants? Perhaps there are still some things you probably don’t feel comfortable discussing with them. This could be anything from an embarrassing secret to unresolved trauma. While in couples counseling, you have access to an objective third party. You’re in a safe space. There, you’re encouraged to explore your deepest feelings, shared with one another, and receive support. By practicing this vulnerability in couples counseling, you’ll eventually be able to take home much-improved communication and empathy skills.

6.   Prevent change from hijacking your connection

The longer you and your spouse are together, the more likely it is that problems arise. While there is nothing inherently “wrong” with a problem, you want to be prepared to cope productively. As life is happening, a counselor can help you and your partner identify trouble spots, encourage strengths, and stay on course regarding your relationship goals. By acknowledging challenges and transitions with a counselor, you can move forward more successfully.

7.   Gain more mutual respect

Throughout the couples counseling process, you can come to understand yourself and your partner on a deeper level. You’ll understand why they react a certain way. You’ll gain insights into why particular responses or interactions really bother you. By understanding the reasoning behind your thoughts and feelings, you’ll be able to better respect each other.

Don’t shy away from couples counseling. It isn’t a sign that your relationship is on its last legs. You certainly needn’t wait that long. Take the next steps to better your relationship. Your marriage can benefit from having an encouraging counselor in your corner.
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Jill Baumgarner, MA is a licensed professional counselor intern with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you are seeking to improve your marriage or relationship with your partner, contact Jill at 512-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

6 Off The Wall, Fun Things You Can Do To Express Your Love

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

Trying to think of a unique way to express your love to that special someone? Consider these creative off the wall ideas to tell your partner that you care.

1. Use Your Talents

Are you skilled at creating art, writing, or photography? Why not put your talents to use to express your love? However, to make the experience truly off the wall, think bigger. Try the following:

  • Create an oversized or mural painting.
  • Make a three-dimensional poster.
  • Instead of writing a song, why not compose an entire album?
  • Don’t just write a note, how about a series of short stories, E-book, or graphic novel?

Harnessing your own talents is not only a meaningful way to express your love, but a chance to truly think outside of the box.

2. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Another way you can step outside the box to express your love? Get out of your comfort zone. For example, let’s say that you want to plan a day at the amusement park. Your partner loves roller coasters. You want to love roller coasters, but they are just not your cup of tea. Why not take the risk and share with your partner in that experience? It will show that you are willing to push yourself for your partner and impress them with your willingness to try.

3. Do Something Spontaneous

Is spontaneity usually not your thing? Do you plan every outing and activity down to the last detail? Try something new and throw caution to the wind. Let the day take you where it will. For example:

  • Throw a dart at a local map for a driving destination.
  • Pick an activity of your partners’ choice out of a hat.
  • Jump in the car and just start going somewhere.

The fun thing about spontaneity is that it helps you stay more in the moment instead of worrying about planning and preparing. This also means that you can better focus on your partner.

4. Surprise Your Partner with a Trip

Why not surprise your partner with getaway? Think of someplace they have mentioned or wish to go. Then, make all the arrangements ahead of time. This could be a day trip, a weekend escape to a cabin, or a weeklong trip to the Caribbean. Of course, be sure that your partner would enjoy being surprised this way. Otherwise, the idea will backfire. You could compromise by asking your partner to be packed for a trip by Friday but surprise them with the details of the destination.

5. Express Your Love with a Meal

Do you enjoy cooking? You can also express your love with a well-prepared meal. Go all out to make it something special. For example:

  • Come up with a detailed menu, including appetizers, a main course, and dessert.
  • Prepare foods that require thoughtful and unusual flavorings and pairings.
  • Serve an adventurous beverage that goes well with the meal.
  • Consider your presentation. Try blindfold taste-testing or eat each course in a different locale or room of the house.

Take the experience of eating at a world-class restaurant and bring it into your home.

6. Create a Coupon Book

Want to spread out the love to more than one event or activity? Create a coupon book full of ideas that your partner can redeem throughout the year. It can include some of the ideas listed above, as well as your own creations. The idea is that love isn’t restricted to one day a year or even an occasional treat. Instead, it is something that exists creatively all-year round.

When you want to express your love, the sky is the limit. When thinking about how to be “off the wall,” just remember to express love meaningfully, in ways you’ll both enjoy. Ultimately, your partner will see that whatever expression you choose comes from the heart.
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Sarah Wilson, PhD, is an licensed marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you need help to get back on track and find the fun in your relationship again, contact Dr. Wilson at 512-270-4883, ext. 104, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.