3 Key Reasons Healthy Communication Builds Stronger Families

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Communication is key.

We’ve all heard this phrase more than a few times regarding relationships with our significant others, but it’s important to remember that communication can help strengthen our families as well.

We don’t always give communication the credit it deserves, but it only makes sense that communicating the right way can lessen conflict and strengthen bonds in any relationship, including your relationship with your spouse, your parents, and even your kids.

If you’re still wondering why healthy communication is so crucial for a strong, stable family, here are three powerful reasons.

1. Promotes Calm Conversations

If someone in your family has difficulty expressing themselves, it can lead to a lot of turmoil. Emotions run high quickly, and when not properly expressed, can cause a lot of frustration, arguments, and tension within your family. This is especially problematic when it comes to kids because it can cause them to act out in several negative ways.

Healthy communication involves listening – really listening.

When someone (especially a child) knows you’re actively listening to them, they’re more likely to calm down. That makes it easier for them to express themselves in a relaxed and more detailed manner.

If something is bothering them, it will be much easier for you to get to the root of the issue when they feel calm and comfortable with your keen listening habits.

Starting this practice when your kids are very young can help them develop healthy communication habits of their own as they grow. Not only does that allow you to get to the source of stressful issues faster, but it promotes calm communication in the future. If someone in your family knows you’ve taken the time to listen to them and appreciate what they have to say, they’ll likely do the same for you when you have something important to share.

2. Builds Trust

When you communicate effectively with your family, you’re actively working on building trust.

It’s so easy for trust to be broken, especially when it comes to children. Making an effort to practice healthy communication habits will encourage your kids to trust you. As a result, they’ll be more likely to come to you when something is on their mind.

As your children age, the practices you taught them when they were young can make a huge difference in how they handle things and the choices they make in their lives going forward.

Don’t just save your strong communication skills for your kids though, because communicating also builds trust in your relationship with your partner!

You and your partner should be on the same page when it comes to each other’s communication styles. You should also agree on how you communicate with your kids to appear as cohesive parenting team.When you both understand how important healthy communication really is, you can put more effort into strengthening your family unit.

3. You Become a Role Model

When you do encourage healthy communication within your family, you’re setting an example for everyone else. Of course this includes your kids, but it also encourages your partner and even members of your extended family to do the same.

Talking to your family about how to practice healthier communication habits is a great place to start, but you’ll get more out of it by also practicing these habits yourself.

In fact, you might be surprised at just how quickly your actions and the way you interact with your family start to rub off on others.

It’s not always easy to effectively communicate. It takes effort and practice to make it a habit. But, if you’re willing to put in the work and encourage your family to do the same, you’ll find that your family will stay stronger than ever.

That can make a huge difference in times of chaos and stress. 

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on communication, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.


Enjoy Every Moment of Life! 3 Keys to Finding Your Path to Personal Growth

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By Linlea Schwarz, MA

There are so many articles around about personal growth and living for the moment. Life would be so much easier if we could just follow their advice and—presto!—suddenly be on the right path. Unfortunately, reality just doesn’t work that way.

So how do you find clarity?

Consider all of the things you do in your life. Are they geared towards your enjoyment, fulfillment, or personal growth?

Take a step back and really reflect on this question. Then, try using these three keys to finding your path to personal growth.

1. Locate Where You Are Now

First, take a moment to reflect on where you are now, at this moment.

If you took a snapshot of your life and sent it to your younger self, what would they say?

We all make choices in our lives and those choices affect the paths that we take. Have your choices allowed you to be on the path you want? Or, have things taken a different turn?

Remember that if you are not where you thought you would be, that isn’t bad. In fact, life has a way of revealing new paths to personal growth that you didn’t expect when you first started on this journey.

However, what if you are still unsure of what your path should be?

2. Identify Your Passions

Next, identify what you are passionate about. What is it that really excites you in life?

When pursuing your passion, does time seem to slow down? Do you feel more present and centered in your life?

Remember that your passions can change over time too. When you were much younger maybe you were passionate about watching Saturday-morning cartoons. Now, though, you prefer playing the guitar and building things in your workshop. That’s okay!

Understand what your passions are right now, in this moment, and work from there.

3. Pursue Those Passions

Once you know what your passions are, find ways to pursue them.

It could be that you take a course or class to improve upon a skill. Or, schedule a weekend or even a vacation to go more in-depth with your beloved hobby. This could be anything from scuba diving to line dancing to cheese tasting!

If your passion is your work, consider how to do it better. Perhaps the next step is that you open your own business or expand and grow your existing business. When you think about all the options that are available, the sky really is the limit!

Find Balance with Your Passions

It’s entirely possible that you have passions that are both related to work and recreation. That’s great because it allows you to enjoy more moments in life.

Think about it, you can love what you do for work and still be passionate about your family too.

Finding a balance between work and home allows you to get more enjoyment out of your time and feel more passionate about life as well.

A Word of Advice - Never Settle

We’ll leave you with this word of advice: never to get too complacent with your passions. Remember, there is always room to pursue growth or try something new.

For example, an athlete will love their sport but will also constantly push to achieve a higher level of performance.

Personal growth occurs in much the same way. You can’t grow unless you are challenged. That can mean refining your skills in your current passions or trying something completely new.

When it comes to your personal growth and finding enjoyment in life, the most important factor is identifying and pursuing that which you love to do. Finding your passion will make life enjoyable; maintaining that passion means to constantly be pushing yourself toward new challenges.


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Linlea Schwarz, MA, LPC Intern, works with individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are on their path to personal growth. Whether going through a “quarter life crisis,” a life transition, or just looking for a more fulfulling future, Linlea can help. To schedule an appointment, call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 118, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

How to Know It's Time to Break Up - 5 Unmistakable Signs

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Are you wondering if it’s time to break up with your partner?

It’s never easy to talk about ending your relationship. Maybe you’ve felt distant for a long time, or you’re struggling about whether leaving is the right thing to do.

Though every relationship is different, the patterns are often the same. If you’re struggling to find satisfaction in your relationship, these signs may be indicating that it’s time to break up.

Not every romantic relationship is built to last and knowing when it’s time to part ways can allow you and your partner to do so amicably. It’s often easier to remain friends and can save you both a lot of stress and heartache.

If you’ve been struggling in your relationship and you’re wondering if it’s time for it to end, keep the following signs in mind.

1. You Don’t Feel Like Yourself

The people we spend most of our time around often impact the way we feel about ourselves.

If you’ve felt bad about yourself for a while, or you just simply don’t feel like “you,” take a look at your relationship.

Do you feel worse when you’re around your partner? Do you feel like you must put on some kind of an act when you’re around them? Alternatively, how do you feel when you’re by yourself or with other people?

If you feel bad about yourself when you’re with your partner or even when you think about them, it could be a clear sign that they’re the wrong person for you and it’s time to break up.

Compromise is important in a relationship, but you should never have to compromise who you really are to be with someone else.

2. There’s No Authentic Communication

There’s a reason communication is often considered the key to a successful relationship. Without it, you’ll never be able to reach a deeper level of intimacy with your partner.

Not only does strong communication help when it comes to diffusing arguments, but it’s also necessary to genuinely feel connected to someone.

If you can’t share your deepest thoughts and feelings with your partner, you’ll never be able to fully open up to them. Over time, that could lead to resentment.

3. You’re in Denial

It’s not easy to break up with someone, no matter the state of your relationship. Because of this, far too many people stay in relationships that aren’t working out because they don’t want to believe it’s really over. More so, they don’t want to believe something negative about their partner, even when it’s right in front of them.

The longer you remain in denial about the state of your relationship, the worse you’ll start to feel.

4. There’s No Way to Make It Work

Weighing out the pros and cons of your relationship can help you to decide if there is any way to make it work.

Sometimes, no matter what you come up with, there simply isn’t a way to make things better.

If you can’t see a positive way out of the current negative state of your relationship, it might be time to break up. Don’t wait for things to get better if you know they probably won’t.

5. You’re Not Genuinely Happy

One of the best ways to determine if it’s time to break up is to gauge your own happiness. Ask yourself if you’re truly happy in your relationship, and with your partner. If the answer is no, think about the reasons why.

While your happiness shouldn’t be dependent on another person, you also shouldn’t feel unhappy because of their behavior, or because of the state of a relationship. Of course, talking with your partner about the way you feel can make things easier on both of you. Chances are, it’s not just one-sided. If you feel like something is missing in your relationship, it’s a safe bet that your partner feels the same way.

Accepting that it may be time to break up can be extremely difficult and heart-wrenching. The result of holding on to each other too long risks a buildup of resentment and anger for you and your partner.

Approaching your partner with your feelings of dissatisfaction, in a kind and caring way, and getting those feelings out in the open can sometimes help rebuild the relationship or make it easier for you both to realize you’re not the right fit for each other. It’s an emotionally-healthy and responsible way to resolve issues in the relationship with as little hurt as possible.

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Contact the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at (512) 270-4883 to schedule an appointment, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and you will be contacted as soon as possible for scheduling.

A Strong Relationship: How Couples Counseling Helps You Build It

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By Summer Hough, MA

Even the best relationships have room for improvement.

Strengthening the foundation of your relationship with your partner during the good times will help you get through the rough times with love, kindness, and compassion.

One key way to build a strong relationship is through couples counseling.

Couples Counseling Isn’t Just for Bad Times

Most couples only make an appointment for couples counseling when things are at their worst. Therapy is certainly critical at such times. What many people don’t realize, however, is how helpful it can be to see a counselor when there aren’t major problems that are surfacing in their relationship.

Couples counseling during the good times includes these benefits:

  • Building your communication skills with one another

  • Recalling all the positive, common memories of your relationship and what brought you together in the first place

  • Building rapport and a supportive relationship with your therapist, so you can seek them out when you have challenging times

  • Addressing common relationship “hot spots” before they become bigger problems, so you will know how to address them if and when they come up for you and your partner

3 Key Ways to Build a Strong Relationship

While you are in couples counseling, you and your partner will learn many strategies to build a strong relationship. Three key therapy tools include:

1. Avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Relationship expert and author, Dr. John Gottman, found through his research and work with couples that he can almost always predict whether a couple is going to “make it.” Couples who have a communication style exhibiting what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt) are unlikely to recover from the negative impact on their relationship. If you want to build a strong relationship, you must be vigilant against these communication problems. Working with a trained therapist in couples counseling you can learn how to eliminate these four from your interactions, establishing a better way to express your needs and communicate without hurting your relationship.

2. Learning Love Languages

Author Gary Chapman teaches that there are five basic ways that we express love.

One key path to a good relationship is to learn to express love in your partner’s preferred language. Some people like receiving gifts, while others would favor words of affirmation. There are some who want quality time. Others need physical touch. Still, others express love through acts of service. Through therapy, you and your partner can learn your own love languages and how to speak each other’s language.

3. Crossing the Bridge

This is a technique developed by relationship experts Hedy and Yumi Schleifer.

Partners sit close together, facing one another. One partner is the host, inviting the other partner (the “visitor”) to cross the bridge and visit his / her land. The visitor is encouraged to leave all baggage on their side of the bridge and to come to visit with love and kindness. The host shows the visitor around the world, explaining their point of view from an “I statement” place. The partner serves as a loving witness to the host’s experience, stating through body language and presence, “I see you and accept you.”

Building a Strong Relationship in Small Steps

What have we learned so far? The best thing you can do for your relationship is to give couples counseling a try. You don’t need to wait until there is “trouble in paradise” before you make that first appointment. Therapists can offer you a diverse range of tools for building a strong relationship foundation. Learning and practicing important communication techniques like avoiding the four horsemen, speaking in love languages, and crossing the bridge go a long way toward making each conversation you have with your partner better than the last.
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Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to help rebuild connections and strengthen relationships. To book an appointment with Summer, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

The Daily Struggle with Traumatic Memories - EMDR Therapy Can Give You Relief

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By Roy Faget, MA

When you scrape your knee, you clean the wound and maybe add ointments and bandages to help it heal.

But, what if that wound appeared to be healed on the surface, but underneath it was still painful and caused discomfort?

Could the problem be what you can’t see? Perhaps some leftover debris, irritating the wound further despite your efforts on the surface? 

Traumatic memories can work in the same manner. When we come to therapy seeking help for anxiety, depression, addiction, or other issues, we are asking for a way to heal a painful wound without knowing where the source of the problem actually lies.

Many therapists turn to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy) as an effective treatment plan for their clients.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy has become widely accepted and practiced by mental health professionals worldwide.

Healing from the source is the goal of EMDR Therapy. With that in mind, the treatment utilizes an eight-step process to reorient cognitive attachments of trauma to more positive and empowering ones.

A summary of these steps includes:

1. History and Treatment Planning

Clients begin with an intake process that identifies their history of trauma. From that, the therapist creates an individualized treatment plan.

2. Preparation

Typically, the following sessions will work in preparing the patient emotionally for the reprocessing and desensitization process.

3. Assessment

During the assessment step, the therapist works with the patient to identify traumatic memories and reconstruct the scene. The therapist then asks the patient to identify negative self-beliefs associated with that scene and what positive self-beliefs they would want to have associated with that memory.

4. Desensitization

Next, in desensitization, the therapist uses rapid eye movement or other bi-lateral stimulation method to measure subjective disturbance around the memory, while the patient walks through the traumatic experience. The goal is to lower subjective disturbance for the client.

5. Installation

Installation is a step in which the therapist introduces positive associations and beliefs of self-worth to the patient. These beliefs replace the negative associations previously held.

6. Body Scan

The therapist will ask the patient to notice where, physically, they feel any leftover tension in their body. This is because EMDR Therapy suggests that we hold residual trauma in our physical body.

7. Closure

To ensure the patient leaves the session feeling better than when they arrived, the therapist walks the patient back to a calm state, using relaxation techniques. This step is vital for patients who did not fully resolve the traumatic memory during the session.

8. Reevaluation

At the beginning of each new session, the therapist will check in on the results of the previous treatment and adjust the treatment for the session, if needed.

Is EMDR Right for You?

EMDR is a proven treatment option for several conditions such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, depression, anxiety, and other conditions. Specifically, EMDR Therapy provides you with tools and positive thinking to gain power over your traumatic memories.

Some of these tools include:

  • EMDR Therapy helps us to understand the source of our struggles

Sometimes, we can feel as though we are maneuvering through life with blinders on. Untreated trauma keeps us from seeing the entire picture. EMDR asks clients to navigate back to the source, or negative belief that started it all. This process helps remove the blinders so that we can better understand where our behavior patterns come from.

  • EMDR Therapy aids us to form healthier associations

It works to reorient our way of thinking and processing negative events from our past. Often, over time, these events have produced self-destructive beliefs. During treatment, patients gain healthier attachments to painful, traumatic memories that can boost their sense of worth and positive behavior.

  • EMDR Therapy provides a foundation to build upon

Reassociating trauma with positive attachments often brings with it a steady set of core beliefs that you can take with you for the rest of your life’s journey. These beliefs help you to feel grounded and prevent you from once again taking part in negative self-beliefs and unhealthy behavior patterns.

Talk with your provider to see if EMDR is right for you. With patience and consistency, EMDR Therapy can be the treatment plan to finally heal your wounds and end your daily struggle.
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Roy Faget, MA, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate, is an EMDR-trained therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who works with clients to help heal traumatic memories. To schedule an appointment with Roy, contact him at (512) 270-4883, ext. 109, or request him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

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

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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.
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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

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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.
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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?

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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.
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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.

Marriage and Friendship: 4 Keys to Knowing Each Other Intimately

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By Roy Faget, MA

The one person that you should know best in life is your spouse. In fact, research shows that knowing your partner well and maintaining a deep and trusting friendship, is foundational to your relationship happiness. Marriage and friendship are closely linked.

Your spouse is your life-partner and the friend whom you can turn to at the times you need them the most.

Marriage, of course, is a lifelong journey. That means that the process of learning about your partner never ends as you grow together through the years.

No matter where you are in your marriage—whether it’s year 1 or 51!—there is always the chance to more intimately know one another.

Consider these four key ways to accomplish just that.

1. Spend Time Together

There is absolutely no substitute for spending time with each other. When you are first married, you spend a lot of time together as a couple. As time goes on it’s easy to drift into separate lanes.

When that happens, you lose the intimacy you once had. This is more than physical intimacy; it’s the emotional and spiritual closeness that you share together.

To spend more time enhancing your marriage and friendship together, consider these ideas:

  • Set aside 30 minutes each day to be together and catch up on each other’s day.
  • Go for walks together. This is especially useful if you have a pet that needs a daily walk (or two!).
  • Cook meals together.
  • Play music or dance with each other.
  • Spend a getaway day together where you go out and explore your community.
  • Exercise as a couple.
  • Pick up a new sport or hobby that you are both interested in.

Whether it’s a daily practice that takes a few minutes or getting away on vacation now and then, it’s important to spend time with each other and doing things together.

2. Have Meaningful Conversations

You and your partner probably spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other when you first started dating. Most likely, these were the kind of conversations where you both lost track of the time. Everything else fell by the wayside as you were drawn into each other.

Don’t let that disappear once you’re married. Instead, continue to have meaningful and thoughtful discussions. Ask your partner what their hopes and dreams are. Show concern if they have a newfound fear.

Relationships evolve over time, and so do people. What was true for your partner when you were dating may have changed by now. Make sure that you are both still on the same page and know what is going on in each other’s worlds.

3. Truly Listen to Each Other

Listening has become something a lost art in our modern, busy, stressed-out world. Yet, it is such an important and key element for knowing each other intimately. How can you possibly know your partner if you don’t pay attention and listen?

Listening intently requires you to slow down and to focus your attention—not on yourself, but on your partner. Take in what they have to say and let it absorb into your mind and heart. Try to relate and connect with what they are feeling and experiencing.

Listen to understand your partner, not to give advice or fix a problem they are sharing with you. Validate the feelings and emotions they are sharing with you. Be curious about what is going on for them.

Listening also means paying attention to your partner’s nonverbal communication. If you can be attuned to both forms of communication, you will be much closer to knowing one another intimately.

4. Laugh Together

The fourth key to intimately knowing your partner is laughter and humor. When you laugh you are releasing endorphins, which affect your mood. You feel more relaxed, accepting, and present.

Imagine what happens when both of you are laughing together. You are both sharing a common experience that is positive, satisfying, and enjoyable. Let’s face it, laughing is just fun!

Knowing what makes your partner laugh can help when times get tough or you need to blow off steam. Sharing a laugh can truly help. Remember, it’s those little events that occur in your life that create a strong foundation for not just a friendship—but a marriage.

The key to a happy marriage and friendship is no big secret. Marriage and friendship are paired  qualities that have stood the test of time.

Don’t allow the busy-ness and stress of everyday life to get in the way of having a strong marriage and friendship.  It’s never too late to put these four key elements into action to create a stronger, more intimate, and consistently caring relationship.
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Roy Faget, MA, is a marriage and family therapist associate and licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Contact Roy if you and your partner are looking for assistance to revive friendship and intimacy in your relationship. He can be reached at 512-270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment with him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

5 Affirmations Happy Couples Give Each Other Often

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

We are regularly bombarded with images and messages about “true love.” They all seem to add to something like this:

  • You have one true soul mate out there
  • When you meet, it’s love at first sight
  • From there, well… it’s happily ever after

Sure, this is an oversimplification but, by how much? Each of us, through no fault of our own, get some very unproductive messages about relationships. Movies, books, and social media often present us with the image of what a relationship should be. This can result in big problems when real life doesn’t follow the fairytale script.

There is a very basic, yet powerful way to counter the “true love hype” in this age of social media, memes, and smartphones. What is it?

Affirmations!

What is an Affirmation?

An affirmation is defined as a positive assertion.                   

An affirmation is a conscious act. It is a mindful statement of truth.

We each have anywhere from 150 to 300 thoughts per minute. Most of the tens of thousands of thoughts we have daily are subconscious. The majority of these are negative, and most of the time we are not even aware of our negative cognitions. When we begin to pay attention and choose to mindfully be aware of the ticker tape of thoughts going on in our mind, we can then counter the negative thoughts with positive affirmations that are more helpful.

While everything else ricochets around your brain, an affirmation has a calming effect. It provides much-needed certainty among the many conflicting thoughts. Affirmations are helpful in relationship terms, as well as in individual. A steady practice of giving your partner and your relationship positive affirmations feels like a strong foundation against the changing, unpredictable winds.

When we affirm ourselves, our partner, and our relationship, we absorb the positivity. We feel it. We mean it.  We live it.

5 Affirmations Happy Couples Give Each Other Often

1. Our lines of communications are always open and always open to change.

Healthy communication is a foundational part of a happy relationship. Remember that good communication is a process — not a destination.

2. I love you as you are.

Too often, we stack up our partner against other people. Even worse, perhaps, is when we stack our partner up against some future version of them. We can love our partner as they are — while also supporting them as they evolve and grow.

3. I take responsibility for my words and actions.

No more defensiveness and passive-aggressive deflection. We will think before we act and speak and after we act and speak. If we make a mistake, we will repair that mistake and take responsibility for it.

4. I forgive when necessary and I apologize when necessary.

Hard times will happen. The goal is never perfection. When navigating rough waters, we will handle the struggle with maturity, grace, and love.

5. My respect and trust are unwavering.

No matter how our connection evolves — even if that connection dramatically shifts — respect and trust is non-negotiable. These are guiding principles for all our actions.

There’s Something Else Happy Couples Do

Leave nothing to chance. Accepting that sometimes you may need a bit of help is another way to affirm yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

Individually and as a couple, we must accept that sometimes we do better if we get outside help and support. This may mean reading books on healthy relationships, attending a workshop or weekend retreat for couples, or seeing a couples counselor. Reaching out for help with your relationship doesn’t mean your relationship is failing, it affirms that your relationship is important to you and you want to make it better and happier for you both.

The patterns we develop over time often mask what we choose not to see. To stay a “happy couple” means we must sometimes face some “unhappy” truths. We identify them, address them, and do the work to make different choices. All in all, there’s no other affirmation that shows love more clearly.
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Jill Baumgarner is a licensed professional counselor intern with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you and your partner want to find new ways to affirm your relationship, contact Jill at 512-270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.