Marriage/Couples

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong When Struggling with Anxiety

Anxiety in Relationship.png

By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Anxiety disorders have been documented from antiquity to the present. Anxiety is a normal emotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to manage.  

If you or your partner are struggling with chronic anxiety, you know the impact it can have on your relationship. It’s important to do whatever you can to keep your relationship strong despite struggling with anxiety. You and your partner will both need to be understanding, flexible, and willing to work together to combat anxious thoughts and feelings.

It’s possible to have a wonderful, fulfilling, successful relationship, even if one or both partners are struggling with anxiety symptoms.

Use the following tips to keep your relationship solid.

Live in the Moment

Anxiety can make a person fearful of what might happen or what is to come. In a relationship, that will eventually cause a lot of distrust. It’s important to live in the moment and be fully present, rather than thinking of the “what ifs” of the future.

If you’re the person with anxiety and you struggle with fears of the unknown, you’re not alone! One of the best things you can do is to pause, tune in to your emotion, and reflect on the cause of the anxiety. Rather than focusing on what you don’t know and what you can’t control, try pinpointing what you do know and what you can control.

If you’re trying to support your partner with anxiety, encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly to regulate their anxiety. Using tools, such as breathing exercises, to regulate your nervous system and slow down, will help you to work through the anxious thoughts and fears together.

Communicate

Communication is important in any relationship, but it’s necessary when someone is struggling with anxiety. The more you keep your anxious thoughts and feelings inside, the worse they’ll become.

While you might be embarrassed or feel silly about your anxious thoughts and worries, it’s important to share them with your partner. The more you communicate what’s going on in your head, the easier it will be for two of you to tackle it together.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Struggling with anxiety often leads to fear and feeling limited in what you can do to alleviate your unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions.

Learn skills that will prevent uncomfortable thoughts or ideas from completely taking over. Try focusing on the emotion you feel, give it some space for a couple of minutes, acknowledge that it’s there. Notice where you feel it in your body. Start to get comfortable with what is uncomfortable, rather than spinning a thought around in your mind. You might find your anxiety easing.

If you’re not the partner struggling with anxiety, it’s also important that you are understanding and compassionate. Don’t force your anxious partner into anything but encourage them calmly. Remind them to breathe, focus on the discomfort in their body, and provide support and positive reinforcement to help them.

Understand How Anxiety Impacts Your Relationship

The more both partners in a relationship know about anxiety, the better. When you learn more about the signs and symptoms, it’s easier to focus on how you can both manage them. Having a support system, or someone on your side can be a big help.

Understanding anxiety often means having a better idea of what causes or triggers your anxious thoughts. That’s a scary road to travel, for most people. Having a partner who understands how anxiety impacts you and your relationship and being with you along the way can make the process much easier.

Once you better understand why you are struggling with anxiety, you can seek help to treat it.

 —————

Ellen+Rohr.jpg

Ellen Rohr, M.Ed, LPC, is a senior staff counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you or your partner struggle with anxiety and need guidance, Ellen can help. She can work with you to develop a plan to manage your anxiety and build a stronger relationship with your partner every day. To book with Ellen, call her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Why Including Meditation in Your Relationship Makes It Better

773b68c4-b0e2-48d4-a0b6-0113e4d89752.png

By Grace Wood, MA

Most of us think of meditation as a solitary exercise, a quiet way to create inner calm and awareness. Of course, that is very true. Still, you may not have considered how the same soothing practice could help you foster a nurturing and accepting environment for your relationship as well. Over time, you may even find that meditation aids your relationship in surprising ways, expanding insight and intimacy between you your partner.

So, how does including meditation in your relationship improve the way you and your partner interact? Let’s consider four key areas:

1. Meditation Improves Personal Insight 

Every relationship is comprised of two people. The more that each individual knows and understands themselves, the more they will be willing to let their defenses down with their partner. There is less fear of being engulfed in the relationship, being rejected, or being taken advantage of.

Routine meditation gives you a healthy space to check in with yourself and gain internal clarity. Your core beliefs and values are allowed to be noticed but not controlled.

Getting to know yourself at this level of intimacy leads to better self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-compassion. Practicing meditation in your relationship allows you to practice being more authentically you. As you become more secure in yourself, you can interact and set boundaries confidently.

2. Meditation Supports Flexibility Between You and Your Partner

When we feel “stuck” in a relationship, we can often lose the ability to respond to each other well. We may be rigid and inflexible. We forget how to relax, shift gears, or give each other leeway when things get hard.

Negative emotion gets stuck in our bodies and interrupts the flow of positivity and problem-solving energy that we need to work through difficult times.

To expand our abilities to respond to each other in productive ways, we can learn to open ourselves  to a variety of unfamiliar responses. Essentially, meditation can slow down automatic reactions and help you recognize them.

When you make a habit of it, meditation can quickly become a means of injecting conscious, healthy response into your daily interactions.

3. Meditation Makes You Better at” Getting” Each Other 

Research regarding brain health, strong attachments, and effective communication tout the benefits of meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention in the here and now. Exactly where your partner needs you to be when they are sharing with you. Meditation teaches you to be still, listen, tune in. Then you can act with purpose and intention. These skills will make you a dream communicator for the one you love.

 4.  Meditation Promotes Higher Levels of Compassion and Forgiveness

Relationship partners aren’t perfect. Sometimes we say hurtful things. Sometimes we do things we shouldn’t. Meditation helps sift through our behavior without judgment or shame.

The goal is to observe and perceive with less emotion and more intention. This allows you and your mate to look at tough situations with more clarity. In addition, you are more able to allow a feeling to come and go and focus more on the values that drive your relationship. Your shared humanity becomes the focus and giving each other more grace becomes routine.

Keep in mind that meditation is a practice, not a project. Be gentle with yourselves and each other as you learn to do it well. Remember to focus your attention internally first and allow the peace you feel to radiate out and create deeper connection with your partner and others.

—————

Grace+Wood+%282%29.jpg

Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with individuals and couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace’s focus lies in helping clients better understand themselves and their relationship through mindfulness practices. To gain more clarity, schedule an appointment with Grace by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

Emotional Awareness: How to Check In With Yourself During Conflict or High Stress

Emotional Awareness.png

By Grace Wood, MA

When you have conflict with someone, do you tend to lash out and stomp off? Do you withdraw? Perhaps you hurry to lean in and clear the air?

Conflict and stress are a normal part of life. However, some people struggle more than others with managing their emotions during times of high conflict and stress. 

How good are you at staying clear on what’s going on with you in those moments? Is emotional awareness a skill you know how to use?

It’s okay if you aren’t sure. Many of us have little idea of why stress incites certain feelings in us. We’re often surprised at how hurt, reactionary, or offended we become when communication gets tough.

Fortunately, the better we are at checking in with ourselves and becoming emotionally self-aware, the more at peace we’ll be and the happier our relationships will be.

How do you go about emotionally checking in with yourself?

These tips will get you started:

Ask yourself “How do I feel about this situation?”

Seems too simple, right? Maybe, but don’t skip this step. Slow down and let yourself sit with the question. Stew a bit on your response.

You may find that you’re not as sure as you thought about what emotion you’re feeling.

You could say you were “bothered,” “sad,” or “hurt,” and then move on. But, linger for a minute and clearly name how you feel.

Reflect on which emotions rise the most and feel strongest. Try to be specific, while defining and differentiating the emotions as clearly as you can. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Do I feel combative or aggressive?

  • Do I want to avoid or resist the emotions rising me?

  • Are the emotions I have curious and collaborative?

Emotional vocabulary matters. Clearly identifying your feelings helps you recognize and communicate your emotional needs more effectively.

Check in with, but don’t dive into, your emotions

What does that mean? Stress-based emotions can be intense. To deal with them appropriately usually requires a bit of perspective. As you’re looking at yourself and assessing how you feel, back up a little. Consciously ‘look at’ your feelings and responses as if you were viewing them from the outside. Try to be as objective as possible.

The goal is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow them to inform you, not overwhelm you.

Be an observer, not a fixer

When emotions run high, we can suppress or bury them, ignore them, get upset with ourselves or others, and even indulge in a lot of self-blaming and shame if we aren’t careful.

Checking in on your emotions through mindful observation helps interrupt all of that. It keeps emotions available without subjecting them to judgment.

Essentially, you remain present and attentive to what’s happening inside you. You can then allow the emotions to exist and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Experience your feelings and accept them. It is a key part of knowing how emotions support you or get in your way.

Notice what’s happening in your body for more emotional insight

Your body will tell you a lot about how you are feeling…if you will stop to notice it.  Aside from just observing and naming the emotion, notice your arms and legs, areas of tension in your neck and shoulders, discomfort in your stomach, your facial expression, and clenched or tightened muscle groups. What’s going on with your pulse? Your breathing? Do you feel grounded or physically disconnected?

These factors matter and inform your emotions. Simply stopping to tune into your body can help you recognize unhelpful reactions and change course for the sake of connection and cooperation in your relationships.

Seek cognitive clarity: Triggers, habits, and self-talk

When you are emotionally invested in a partner or other high-stress situation, it’s easy to get stuck emotionally and react irrationally. Thus, you are well-served if you can clearly determine how your emotions build and spill over during tough interactions.

Train yourself to recognize emotional build up. In other words, reflect on what was said, seen, thought, or done prior to stressful circumstances. Ask yourself what was going on before you felt anger, disgust, dismissal, offense, etc.

What triggers you? Which patterns of interaction lead up to fights or play out as you disagree? What are you saying in your head about how you feel about yourself or how you perceive the other person thinks about you?

Finally…

Improving emotional awareness for yourself is vital to healthy relationships. Don’t skip this journey. Seek guidance and support, if needed.

Journaling and working with a therapist are particularly helpful as you practice checking in with yourself. Both can greatly enhance your self-confidence, contextualize your experiences, and help shape more meaningful relationships. As you become more aware and emotionally intelligent you will likely discover that are living a happier and more deeply connected life.

—————

Grace+Wood+%282%29.jpg

Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, helps couples and individuals learn how to navigate high conflict situations with different strategies. If you are struggling with identifying your emotions and communicating your feelings effectively to others, Grace can help guide you through this process. Give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Pillow Talk: After Sex Conversations to Have to Feel Bonded

Pillow Talk Conversations to Have After Sex to Feel Bonded.png

By Jill Baumgarner, MA

“Sex is good. Pillow talk is better. Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadnesses as well as hopes and dreams…”

Hara Estroff Marano, author & Editor at Large of Psychology Today

Talking after sex matters. Science and societal wisdom agree that the post-sex period of heightened emotion and willing vulnerability is a precious time that builds intimacy and deepens your ability to connect well … in and out of bed.

How can you capitalize on the psychological and physiological need for attachment? What exactly do you talk about to continue to feel bonded?

Consider the following post-coital conversations as a pillow talk guide to get you started:

Pillow Talk Praise: Admire Your Partner’s Sexual Prowess

How can your lover resist you when you acknowledge their efforts to please you?

As long as the conversation is positive and comfortable, detail how lovely a time you had. Encourage your partner to keep doing that thing with their tongue. Remark that you appreciate how attentive/ energetic/ creative they were.

Ask what you can do to increase their satisfaction too. Keep things light and playful. Prepare for more physical fun now that you’re a little clearer on what each other likes.

Express How being Together Makes You Feel

Who doesn’t feel good about being valued?

Make the most of the floaty post-sex high to talk each other up. Say the loving, complimentary things you used to say at the very start of your love story. Compliment the angles of his face or the curves of her body.

Remind each other that you know each other and like what you know. Honor the roles in you play in each other’s lives. Verbalize how much fun it’s been to work alongside each other as friends and parents. Celebrate the relationship you’re building with specifics, memories, and stories until you drift off. You’ll wake with a lovely sense of togetherness.

Share More of Yourself Between the Sheets

What better time to share more of yourself?

The moments following sex are often a safe, quiet time in which to go deeper into a conversation that you might forgo amid your daily responsibilities. If you find you’re awake and snuggled in, why not take some time to talk about what you usually just daydream about.

When is the last time you dreamed out loud together? Check in on ideas or plans that have changed or evolved in your minds. Invite your partner into the dreams or goals that preoccupy your thoughts.

Open Up about Your Vision for Your Relationship

What’s more reassuring than knowing for sure how your partner sees your future together?

Sex can be deeply intimate and signal a willingness to take your relationship further. Thus, sex and discussions about the future in bed can create close emotional ties that last long after the glow of the physical act fades.

If you have a strong indication that you both want to build a long term relationship, lay back, hold each other, and talk it through. You are both deliciously vulnerable and in a position to capitalize on the sense of trust and mutual satisfaction created physically not long before.

Not Comfortable with Pillow Talk?

Are you struggling with the idea of cozy conversations after sex with your partner? Is there something inside you, or between you, that holds you back?

It may be worth exploring your reluctance and discomfort with a trained couples counselor. Recent research shows that your after-sex moments are key periods for building a solid connection. Don’t lose that special opportunity for deep, emotional connection with your partner.

—————

Jill+Baumgarner.jpg

Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Jill focuses on sexual health in her clients’ relationships by opening up the lines of communication to achieve enhanced intimacy. For guidance on harnessing the spark in your relationship, contact Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

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

Initiating Sex.png

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.

—————

Jill+Baumgarner.jpg

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.

6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority This Year

Relationships Priority.png

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.

— — — — —

Mirela+Bitkowski.jpg

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

Love Languages.png

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.

-----

Mirela+Bitkowski.jpg

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.

 

Aim to Please: How to Talk to Each Other About Sex and Satisfaction

Aim to Please_Talk Sex with attribution.jpg

By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Discussing sex with your partner should be a great experience. At the beginning of a relationship, it usually is.

People are always changing, though. Which means your desires and needs will change, too.

The longer you’re in a relationship the more likely there is a need to talk to each other about sex. Though for many, this can be an awkward moment. Sort of like walking on egg-shells.

While you certainly want to communicate your sexual needs, you may also want to avoid insulting your partner on their sexual prowess. It’s a delicate balance.

Despite the sensitive topic, following a few guidelines will help you to have a healthy conversation.

Get Out of Bed

When you talk to each other about sex, be sure you do it in a neutral location—not while you’re in bed. The goal is to make your partner feel safe, secure, and open to being vulnerable.

Instead of surprising your partner with this discussion, tell them ahead of time what you want to talk about. Preface the invitation with your desire to talk about something that’s been on your mind regarding your sex life.

Handle One Thing at a Time

Because there’s often a risk that a sexual discussion could go poorly, you may be tempted to talk about everything all at once. Trying to discuss every little thing about your sex life is not the best  approach. It can be overwhelming for your partner. Plus, the chances are not great that you will come to any conclusions.

Therefore, follow the “short-and-sweet” rule, sticking to one topic per discussion. For example, if you’d like to talk about your partner taking the initiative more often, simply focus on that one aspect of your sexual relationship.

Remember the Basics

As you head into this discussion about sex, keep in mind the basics. It’s not exactly about tackling a sex topic. It’s more like laying the foundation of your sexual relationship.

Talk about things like what initiating sexual intimacy means to your partner or what time of day they enjoy sex the most. Your partner’s natural life rhythm can greatly influence their sexual desires, so keep these facts and their concerns at the forefront of any discussion.

Take the Positive Approach

As with any discussion attempting to motivate change, the temptation is to focus on what you don’t like. Basically, you end up complaining. Avoid this approach, by all means.

Rather, offer your partner reassurance by telling them what you do like about your sexual relationship. Go as far as to discuss a certain action like the way they kiss you or caress your skin.

Only after you encourage and uplift your partner can you talk about any suggestions or concerns you may have. Keep in mind, too, that you need to leave room for them to give their point of view and be open to their feedback.

Be Incredibly Tactful

While sex is undeniably a very physical act, its impact runs far below the surface of your body. It is emotional, mental, and intangible. Further still, each person has their own unique relationship with sex.

It’s important to acknowledge that your partner could have different ideas about sex than you do. Possibly even a complicated history that affects how they feel about it.

For this reason, dedicate yourself to being as tactful as you possibly can when you talk to each other about sex. If you have trouble finding the right words, pause the conversation.  Search your mind diligently for them. Protect your partner from misunderstanding you and inadvertently hurting their feelings.

Obviously, sex can be a wonderfully intimate expression of the connection between two people. If you struggle with discussing it, take some time to determine why. Otherwise, your relationship may struggle as well.

A therapist’s objective support and guidance could make it easier if you find that you have difficulty with this subject on your own. Consider seeking out a therapist who can facilitate a discussion about sex and help you to reconnect intimately with your partner.
—————

Jill Baumgarner Headshot Cropped and Resized.jpg

Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, helping them restore intimacy, sexual spark, gain communication skills, and find peace in their committed relationships. To schedule an appointment with Jill, contact her at 5121-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

When You Both Feel Misunderstood - 5 Tips For Clear Communication

Misunderstood_Clear Communication with attribution.jpg

By Summer Hough, MA

A conversation with your partner begins innocently enough, but clear communication can get muddy in hurry.

Sound familiar?

You know how it goes: you are having a perfectly nice discussion, but a facial expression suddenly sours, open body language shifts to being closed off, or a phrase or tone of voice doesn’t sit right. Your sunny dispositions may cloud over as a simple discussion turns into a disagreement.

Poor communication can ruin a good conversation about anything—parenting styles, what to do for vacation, finances, household tasks – just to name a few. When clarity gives way to an offense, you both feel unheard or misunderstood.

It can be so frustrating!

You just want to explain yourself to your partner so they will get it and then agree with you. Right?

However, many times that doesn’t happen. Instead, the situation only goes from bad to worse.

To avoid such misunderstandings, consider five tips to help you to achieve clear communication.

1. Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes

Often, one of the reasons why we feel misunderstood is because we believe our position or opinion is the right one. You may think, “If only I could convince my partner of the true facts, as I see it, they would get it!” Problem solved.

This approach doesn’t often work, as your partner most likely only digs in deeper with their own “true facts.”

Take a breath to give yourself a short pause before responding to your partner. Take a moment to step back and see things from your partner’s perspective. Consider how they might view the situation from their side. Can you consider that perspective and find common ground?

Putting effort into seeing things from the other person’s viewpoint really helps when it comes to effective communication.

2. Know How to Interrupt

A general rule of thumb is that interrupting your partner is not helpful and only leads to conflict escalation.

However, if there is a time when you must pause the conversation to focus on a particular point, don’t default to rudeness or start talking over your partner. Rather, say, “Excuse me, you’re bringing up a really good point here. Could we explore that further?”

Frame the interruption as a question with the intent of furthering your understanding. This is productive and respectful, as opposed to interrupting with the goal of shutting your partner down by disagreeing or saying they’re wrong in their point of view.

3. “I” vs. “You” Statements

When it comes to misunderstandings with our partner, it’s easy to use language focused outward instead of inward. It can be easy to generalize, catastrophize, and minimize someone else’s behavior, too. Do you say things like:

  • You always do that!
  • You never listen to me!
  • Can’t you just stop for a moment?

Instead, use “I” statements to express what you are feeling. For example, “I feel disregarded when it seems what I have to say is not important. I need to feel that I’m heard, even if we disagree on this issue.”

Hear the difference?

Criticism of your partner is gone when “I” statements are present. You are speaking from your point of view and the emotions you are feeling. Be aware of the use of the word “you” during conflict, which can feel like criticism to your partner, and often results in the back-and-forth volley of defensiveness between the two of you.

This kind of approach helps your partner stay more open to what you have to say instead of feeling backed into a corner or accused by you.

4. Avoid the “Here We Go Again” Mentality

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Here we go again,” when talking with your partner? This refers to the repeated actions or speech your partner uses. Even just the fact that you are having another argument about the same old thing can bring this thought to mind.

“Here we go again” thinking causes you to mentally write your partner off before they have even had a chance to express themselves.

Think about it. If there is a theme that repeatedly comes up, perhaps it’s time you both really addressed it. To do this well, be willing to have an open mind when your partner brings up the perpetual issue. Ask questions. Be curious. Try to understand, even if you don’t agree.

5. Listen, Don’t Speak

The key to clear communication with your partner has less to do with speaking and more to do with listening. That means avoiding the temptation to jump in and “correct” your partner or talk over them.

Truly listening involves more than just opening your ears. It also means having an open heart.

When each of you opens up, real sharing and dialogue can occur. Otherwise, you are just fending each other off with your emotional walls and defenses. When that happens, emotional vulnerability is off the table, and little or no progress can be made

No one likes to feel misunderstood. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about creating clear communication and understanding. The wrong way means shutting yourself off, not listening to your partner, and being dismissive.
----------

Headshot.JPG

Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern works with couples and individuals, helping them to improve their relationships through improved communication skills. She sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, a specialty practice helping couples, families, and individuals building and maintain positive and happy relationships. Contact Summer at 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment with her.

Healthy Relationships: When Is It Time to See a Couples Therapist?

Healthy Relationships See Couples Counselor with attribution.jpg

By Summer Hough, MA

Every couple can benefit from the nonjudgmental assistance of a couples therapist.

Transition periods in a relationship may be especially difficult for couples to manage on their own.

Changes are exciting. Moving in together, getting married, and starting a family are fun experiences. Changes like this are also very stressful.

Transitions trigger our fears. They show us our differences. Things that neither of you knew were an issue can arise and provoke problems.

A couples therapist can help you navigate the transitions with ease.

Counseling is beneficial before big changes occur. Continuing through transitions will help to navigate difficult times. Do you have any of the following big transitions coming up?

1. Moving in Together Has Unexpected Surprises

Living together offers many wonderful moments of domestic bliss. Cooking together, sharing a shower, and sleeping next to one another are cozy. A lot of intimacy opens up when you agree to share space with one another.

However, many issues also arise with moving in together. Couples may think they have a lot in common only to discover a big gap in the way each does everyday things. Things that can challenge your patience include:

  • Dividing chores
  • Balancing “together” and “alone” time
  • Adjusting to your partner’s sleep-wake cycle
  • Choosing when and how to communicate about issues

Counseling can help you set expectations before you move in together. Your couples therapist can point out common issues and help you discuss them. After the move, as new challenges arise, therapy can continue to support your growth as a couple.

2. Getting Married Creates New Challenges

Whether or not you live together first, marriage presents a new set of challenges for couples. Many people have underlying expectations of what a marriage is, and they mistakenly assume that their partners feel the same way.

Sometimes we, as individuals, haven’t even unearthed those issues for ourselves, so we can’t communicate them adequately. Our partners don’t live up to what we expect, and we feel disappointed. Individual and couples counseling help you define and discuss those expectations.

Pre-marital counseling is also important for sifting through major marriage issues. Many couples feel stress about combining finances. Other common stressors include where you will live, how you will deal with job changes, and what role your in-laws will play in your lives.

You can anticipate and cope with many of your marriage problems in advance. When new challenges arise, you’ll have the foundation that you need to discuss issues and deal with them productively.

3. Starting a Family Triggers New Fears

Having child brings up concerns for many people. You may experience triggers from your own childhood that you thought had been resolved long ago. These unprocessed events from an earlier time can put a big strain on a relationship.

Problems can arise long before the children are even in the picture. People have different ideas about when to have children, how many to have, and even how to have them (through adoption, for example).

It’s never too early to get help from a couples therapist in this area. Bring your fears and doubts into the therapy room. Work together to find ways to create a family that feels right to everyone involved.

Once you have children, they will provide you with many learning opportunities that further challenge your relationship. However, having done the work ahead of time, you and your partner will be better prepared to work through those issues. You won’t always be on the same page, but you’ll know how to get there together.

Sometimes problems in a relationship make it is obvious that you need to see a couples therapist. It is less obvious that you should go when things are going well for you and your partner. Still, notice the transitions in your lives, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help early on. You can get through challenging times with love and the tools to grow together.
----------

Headshot.JPG

Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern is a counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She helps couples, married and premarital, successfully navigate transitions in their relationships. To schedule an appointment with her, call 512-270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.