Marriage/Couples

Confidentiality in Relationships: Some Questions Worth Talking About

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By Linlea Schwarz, MA

There are many benefits to being one-half of a couple. Sharing the ups and downs of life with a trusted partner is special and precious.

As couples combine and intertwine their lives, many face the challenge of blurred lines regarding individual privacy.

This sometimes makes it difficult to have big, important conversations with our partners.

Couples and Confidentiality

Every person brings their own set of baggage, problems, concerns, potential secrets, and shame into a relationship. When they become part of a couple, they are working to align their own interests and ideals with those of their partner.

Because communication is an essential foundation for any successful relationship, it is difficult for total individual privacy and personal confidentiality to exist side-by-side. A healthier approach is to have conversations about all aspects of your life with your partner, no matter how challenging. 

Behind each thriving couple are two individual people working together to communicate and openly discuss their lives. Discussing their pasts, fears, dreams, concerns, joys, hopes, ideals, and frustrations leaves little room for secrecy or withholding trust in thriving relationships.  

Asking Hard Questions

If you and your partner are struggling to communicate openly and share all aspects of your lives (past, present, and future), consider the following introductory list of helpful questions. Every one of these topics is important to a healthy relationship, and each one is worthy of discussion:

“Where are we going?” 

Before you can discuss nearly anything else about your future as a couple, it is important to know you are both on the same page about there being a future. You must establish that the two of you are working toward the same goal for your relationship, whether you are dating, engaged, or even married.

“What are your feelings toward finances?”

One of the most dreaded topics of conversation among many couples is finances. Money is often cited as a top reason couples have conflict and even divorce. While it may not be fun and exciting to discuss, it is crucial for you to understand how your partner feels about earning and spending money, carrying debt, sharing expenses, combining finances or keeping them separate or a combination of both, paying bills, large purchases, and saving for the future.

“What makes you feel loved and appreciated?”

One of the best ways you can care for your partner is to learn early in the relationship what makes them feel loved and understood. People give and receive love differently—so you should know the things that validate and comfort your significant other, and communicate to your partner what makes you feel loved.

“What are your ambitions and hopes for your life?”

Although life rarely goes according to our plans, it is still important to have plans. We are often attracted to people who share our dreams and ideals. Therefore, you should know what your partner hopes to get out of life, how to support them in the journey, and be able to express your ambitions and dreams to your partner and receive reciprocal support. 

“How do your values shape the kind of life you want to live?”

A person’s values and moral compass tend to largely define their identity. Your partner’s values will undoubtedly impact your life as well. It is crucial that you discuss topics such as your families of origin, children, faith and spirituality, political views, and what a committed partnership or marriage means to each of you. We often carry our backgrounds and upbringings into our adult relationships, so we must understand our partner’s history and identity.

Opening up to someone else completely and letting go of our own privacy and confidentiality is difficult for many people. Often, the transformation is successful only through years of practice. The important part is to keep trying and to keep speaking honestly with your partner.

If you are struggling with communication, simply try to discuss one question each day until the process becomes easier. If you need help, seek support and guidance in couples counseling. With time, you will develop greater trust in your partner and learn to value the sometimes difficult conversations that bring you closer together in an emotionally intimate bond.


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Linlea Schwarz, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who may be struggling to have these big conversations with one another. In couples counseling, Linlea helps her clients learn how to communicate effectively, establish trust, and express desires/needs in the relationship. For more help in “asking the hard questions,” schedule an appointment with Linlea by calling her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 118, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Neediness vs. Valid Relationship Needs: How to Navigate Both

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By Grace Wood, MA

 Few of us want to be labeled the “needy” one in a relationship. We like to seem independent and in control, rather than insecure or clingy. Neediness in our romantic relationships hints at an insatiable desire to be affirmed, validated, sought out, and attended to. We tend to think of a needy partner as someone who strains and emotionally exhausts their partner. Not the most attractive qualities.

Yet, sometimes our desire to not be considered needy interrupts the more healthy, necessary, and appropriate process of sharing our relationship needs with our partners.

How do we know where normal relationship needs end and clingy behavior begins?

Consider the following tips to understand the difference:

1. Recognize that Your Relationship Requires Interdependence

The truth is, giving and receiving time, love, attention, and affection in a fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationship means embracing interdependence. Humans have many needs--food, water, shelter, and human connection, just to name a few. We do need each other, and that can be frightening. When we feel vulnerable and insecure, we often overcompensate. We tend to go hard in the opposite direction to appear independent and strong, thereby missing the joy of relating to each other openly.

Recognizing our interdependence is beneficial. We are hard-wired for this type of connection. It isn’t needy to want to take care of ourselves and be safely taken care of, too.  Neediness is an issue only when we try to make our desire to be taken care of our partner’s primary or sole focus.

2. Willingly Examine Your Relationship Expectations

It is important that you and your partner do some internal soul-searching and thorough communicating as it pertains to your relationship expectations. Be willing to tell yourselves the truth without demanding that either of you force the other to be something you aren’t.

Many times, a good connection devolves into disappointment, neediness, and breakdown due to unrealistic assumptions about how partners should behave to make the relationship work.

It’s important to understand that expecting your partner to consider and respect you is valid. But to expect that making sure you’re always okay is unrealistic and draining.

In addition, be sure you’ve chosen a partner who can meet your needs. You must both be ready and present to love well. A partner you know is emotionally unavailable, has a history of unfaithfulness, or is generally nonchalant regarding intimacy, may create a relationship environment that is incompatible with your needs. Don’t pretend you can talk, beg, or cajole them into being who you need them to be. That’s neediness too. It won’t work and does a number on your self-respect.

3. Master Self-Awareness and Open Communication

To get our needs met in a healthy relationship requires self-awareness and effective communication.

First, knowing and taking responsibility for yourself is a vital part of eradicating neediness. No one person is responsible for your happiness. You have the power to seek it and, ultimately, share it with someone else. Understanding this makes you much more self-assured, emotionally stable, and capable of developing lasting love. If you need assistance determining your own goals or struggle with self-esteem issues, talk to trusted family members and friends, or reach out for the professional help of a counselor.  You can then improve self-awareness and solidify your understanding of what you bring to a relationship. The ensuing confidence may be a game-changer.

Second, knowing how to communicate love and respect, prioritize your relationship despite conflict, and assert your needs without coercion or manipulation, are vital relationship skills. In truth, most of us need help with them. 

To avoid neediness or codependence, it helps to have an objective third party, like a couples counselor, highlight and help us through our unproductive communication habits. Most of all, there is no shame or blame in recognizing a tendency toward neediness in your relationship and addressing it. This can help preserve what’s working in your relationship and provide tools for making healthy changes in areas of your relationship that are challenging.

Are You Ready to Resolve Neediness?

Finally, understand that neediness is not the worst thing that can happen to your relationship. You can turn things around with support. It will take effort to work through how neediness plays a part in your connection or how the fear of neediness may be creating too much distance between you and your partner. 

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace can help you talk about needs with your partner in an effective and productive way, and can work with you to implement healthier communicative habits in all areas of your relationship. To schedule an appointment, call Grace at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

Overcome Sexual Anxiety! Tips to Reclaim Fully Functional Intimacy

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Do anxious thoughts, self-sabotaging behavior, and a troubling disconnect with your partner seem to accompany attempts to get close physically? You may be experiencing sexual anxiety.

Doubt, insecurity, and worry are not the kinds of feelings that you want to characterize your sex life. Yet, if you’re experiencing them on a regular basis during intimacy, the joy of sex may now be seriously hindered. But don’t worry. You and scores of others can overcome sexual anxiety, recover your confidence, and make mutual satisfaction a reality again.

How? The following suggestions and strategies can help turn things around quickly:

How to Overcome Sexual Anxiety

First, extend yourself some patience and your partner some credit.

No one wants to feel that they are disappointing someone they care about. Especially during such an intimate act. However, anxiety tends to test our ability to remain logical and maintain perspective.

Therefore, try not to get bogged down in thoughts of how badly you are performing. In fact, shift your thoughts from your sexual performance:

  • Breathe and look at your partner.

  • Remember that they want to be with you.

  • Intentionally interrupt the cycle of worries thoughts in your head.

  • Focus in on who you’re with and why. You may find you’re better able to relax.

Second, get mindful.

To reduce anxious feelings when it comes to sex, it’s important to slow things down and pay close attention to what’s happening in your body and mind.

Try to get quiet and notice how you feel when you think about sex. Do certain memories arise? Are various sensations uncomfortable? What thoughts recur?

Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. Simply use the information as a path towards self-understanding and consider ways to ease into sex and intimacy more comfortably.

Next, give your body the appreciation it deserves.

Body image is a huge contributor to sexual anxiety. Many of us experience real apprehension in intimate situations. Some of us hide our bodies beneath the sheets or the cover of darkness and even more of us run ourselves down before sex with unhelpful self-talk or self-deprecating remarks. None of this, of course, paves the way for desire or confident exploration of each other’s bodies.

To overcome such unproductive and automatic thinking requires two practices:

  1. Intentional attempts to notice and challenge negative self-talk. Pay attention to what you say about your body. Make a habit of rejecting internal shaming with prepared positive, encouraging, thoughts or mantras to help stem the negativity fueling the anxiety.

  2. Routine celebration of your body as it is. Remember, your body is not simply a mass of flesh and bone to be compared to fashion models and professional athletes. It has its own strengths, power, and gifts. Reflect on them, write them down, review the list often and show your body the appreciation it’s due. Teach yourself to value your body for its uniqueness and inherent worth.

Then, release yourself and your partner from your sexual “shoulds.”

Often, we get caught up in the sexual programming of society, media, and our childhoods.

Give yourself permission to look at how your parents, faith, past relationships, social position, and even the movies you watch might inform your ideas about sexual performance. Talk to each other about how you’re affected and make decisions about what really matters to you.

Do you like certain positions, activities, or locations? Decide that the only things you “should” do in your sex life are to please each other and enjoy the experience thoroughly.  It’s perfectly okay to customize your sexual relationship. If you and your partner are on the same page, you can express yourselves however you wish.

Finally, open your mind to support and good ideas for your sexual anxiety.

Sex is such a private thing that we sometimes get stuck regarding problems in that area of our lives. Why? Because we let shame, stigma, or self-criticism keep us from our best selves and our most connected relationships.

Sexual anxiety can go on too long if we let our worries overwhelm our desire to connect intimately. 

That’s why a safe, experienced counselor may be a good option for you individually or for you and your partner. Therapy can help you with tools to address sexual anxiety. You can explore the thoughts and emotions involved, how communication affects your connections with your partner, and whether any past issues need to be resolved.

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If you are experiencing sexual anxiety in either your single life or your relationship, Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, can help. Jill works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to reclaim fully functional intimacy. To schedule an appointment with Jill, call her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

5 Strategies for Establishing Strong Emotional Bonds

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By Roy Faget, MA

We all dream of being close to the ones we love. But what exactly is an emotional bond? And what can we do to establish healthy emotional bonds or connections? Furthermore, how can you decrease the chances of disconnection and detachment with the important people in your life?

David D. Burns, author of Feeling Good, describes an emotionally bonded relationship like this:

When two people respect each other, the ability to be vulnerable and to reveal hurt feelings can create a powerful emotional connection that is the source of real intimacy and friendship.”

Essentially, to be emotionally bonded means that you feel securely attached or connected to another person you know cares for you.

We have an innate need for that sort of bond with our parents or primary caregiver when we are young. Yet, our need to bond to other adults is clear too. We need friendship. We need emotional and physical intimacy. The need to belong to a community, even if that group is just a few safe people, is vital to our mental health and optimal self-image.

How You Can Establish Strong Emotional Bonds

For healthy, mutually satisfying relationships, consider the following tips for bonding well:

1. Study and Learn

Pay attention to your friend, loved one, or romantic partner. Listen and reflect your interest in the other person’s passions, goals, and concerns. Be curious and engage often to further demonstrate how much you value knowing and hearing from them.

2. Develop Trust

No healthy emotional bond exists without trust. This aspect of your bond takes time and must not be broken. It cannot be forced and should evolve naturally. Be gentle with each other and value maintaining trust and trustworthiness.

3. Deal with Relationship Obstacles

Every relationship has limits and barriers. Emotional bonds are built when you face and deconstruct the walls between you and the other person. Do your best, to be honest with each other. Work through your pasts, your beliefs, your values, and your assumptions. The process of tackling the things coming between you shows that you respect each other and your connection.

This allows for consistent vulnerability. Without it, you keep yourself from being hurt, but you also keep key parts of your emotional self separate and unknown. The desire to communicate care and concern for the sake of establishing harmony is a significant way of cementing a connection.

4. Resolve Conflicts Well

Unresolved conflict can wear away at established and evolving bonds. Be sure that you value your relationship above your disagreements. Keep past grievances in the past by staying in the moment and on topic. Let logic and cooler heads prevail. When your friend or loved one sees that the relationship can weather emotional storms, the bond grows more secure.

5. Employ Compassion and Empathy

Work hard at putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Consider their point of view and the “whys” behind the things they say and do. Be curious and mindful about their responses to life situations and avoid jumping to conclusions or making judgments.

Be a gentle and understanding observer.  Imagine what it must be like to live their life and do your best to keep these things in mind as your relationship progresses. Relationships deepen when both people feel considered and understood.

Are You Emotionally Available? 

Perhaps you realize that you need help developing emotional bonds, or that your bonds with important others are not as strong as you would like. Not to worry! Many people grapple with relationship disconnection. If you find yourself struggling to connect in a deeper and more meaningful way, talk to trusted friends and family, or contact a counseling professional who can help you discover insights and develop the emotional tools you need to move toward your relationship goals.

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Roy Faget, MA, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate, works with individuals, couples, teens, and families at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you have been experiencing disconnection in your relationships and are looking to form deeper emotional bonds, Roy can help. Schedule an appointment by calling him at (512) 270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

5 Ways Mindfulness Improves Sex

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By Grace Wood, MA

Sex is not just a physical activity, it is a mentally intimate experience, too. At least, it can be when you know how to tap into the best sexual experience possible. How can you do that? The practice of mindfulness improves sex in ways you and your partner can find exciting and wholly satisfying.

Why is Mindfulness Important for Better Sex?

The practice of being present makes it possible to experience sex with fresh eyes. You can enjoy it intensely, in the moment, fully attuned to what’s happening. You are alive and responsive.

Mindful sex is focused, conscious sex that benefits you in the following ways:

  • You improve your connections internally with your thoughts and emotions.

  • Your connection with your own body and physical sensations is improved.

  • You connect more fully and deeply with your partner.

In essence, when you implement mindfulness, you learn to focus on your emotions and sensations as they happen. And the more you can do that, the better it feels. With those things in mind, let’s explore how mindfulness improves five specific areas of your sex life.

How is Mindfulness Important for Better Sex?

1. Mindfulness Can Reduce the Robotic Routine

Sex can be something that connects us deeply with our partner, with both people tuning into each other’s needs--it can also be repetitive, automatic, and boring. Mindful attention to yourself and your partner means developing the ability to tune into your body and stay present.

The goal? To get away from worry, self-consciousness, or hang-ups from your pasts. You’ll enjoy each other much more by bringing complete attention to the here and now.

These mindfulness tips can help you:

  • Focus on the sensations. Tune into sensuality. Use your senses.

  • Consider and control your breath, muscles, and body position.

  • Minimize diversions and intrusions. Turn off your screens. Make sure you can’t be interrupted by pets or kids.

  • Silence intrusive thoughts and mental chatter (the grocery list can wait.)

  • Be curious. Allow yourself to be curious about your body and your partner’s body. Maybe one or both of you wants to try something new, or you notice that you have a sudden urge to do something different. 

2. Mindfulness Improves Sex by Forming New Sexual Sensibilities

Aside from interrupting routine sex, mindfulness helps create a habit of bringing your mind back to what feels best and most connected. The more you do this, the more you create new neurological pathways. You literally change your mind as it pertains to sex.

Over time, you don’t have to try hard to be mindful or break sexual routine. This increases your chances of wanting to remain physically and mentally linked in the here and now. This easily and naturally shifts the way you approach each other and increases the odds of great sex on a regular basis.

3. Mindfulness can Lower Stress & Elevate Libido

When you are mindful, you practice being aware. You notice your thoughts and responses. This is perfect in a sexual sense. By noticing what thoughts stress you,  you gain the power to calm yourself and reduce stress hormones that reduce libido. As your hormones normalize, you’ll likely begin to want sex more often.

4. Mindfulness can Promote the Practice of Acceptance

The beauty of mindfulness is that it is rooted in acknowledgment and acceptance of yourself and your partner. 

The benefits of such acceptance are that you’ll:

  • feel that it’s okay to be authentic and free with each other.

  • distance yourself from shame and destructive self-talk.

  • connect more deeply with your bodies and be less prone to criticize them.

  • be more accepting of your unique and loving process. 

  • release yourself from the pressure to be perfect or perform. 

5. Mindfulness can Amplify Connection and Deepen Intimacy

Mindfulness can make it possible to slow down and rediscover true lovemaking. Paying attention to the aspects of each other that may get lost in the daily grind is important. Sex becomes decidedly more intimate as mindfulness allows you to tune into the sense of belonging, appreciation, and cooperation flowing between you. Thus, you can relax and trust each other emotionally and sexually.

Finally, Make Pleasure and Connection Your Primary Goals

Learning to be mindful with your partner has no downside. Your relationship, sexually and otherwise, deserves your attention. Embrace the chance to notice and respond to each other in more deeply connected ways. You both deserve to receive and give pleasure in ways that make sex and intimacy natural and gratifying.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, can help you and your partner practice mindfulness to deepen your sexual experiences with one another and attain an even closer connection. To schedule an appointment with Grace at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, call (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

 

How Negative Self-Talk Affects Intimacy with Your Partner

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By Grace Wood, MA

Closeness and intimacy are the joys of your relationship with your partner. That is what we see in romance movies and crave--a sense of closeness. However, we can easily dismantle that joy if we fail to curb the critical, snarky, insulting voice so many of us have in our heads.

That voice can be a constant soundtrack of negative self-talk that runs down your self-perception, self-esteem, and partnership. This can happen so thoroughly that you end up sabotaging yourself, your love, and your libido. Intimacy just doesn’t have a chance in that environment.

To be close to your partner, it’s crucial that you recognize the thoughts that put up walls, turn you away, and skew deep understanding in your relationship.

How many times have you let negative self-talk about your ability to be loved or to be a good partner keep you from reaching out? Do you remember the last time you allowed yourself to be emotionally vulnerable? How long has it been since you were physically uninhibited without a mental wisecrack about your body?

Those kinds of thoughts and inner dialogue soon wear on your ability to shake off insecurity and relax into emotional and physical intimacy.

It’s Important to Remember that You are in Control

Deep down you know you want to be intimate with your partner. You surely want that much more than you want to waste time engaging your inner critic.
Fortunately, you have the power to establish a deep, mutually trusting connection. You simply need to recognize the influence of the negativity and choose your thoughts with more inner love.

What’s the first step? Learn to be present and notice negativity when it is happening.

Pay Attention to How Negative Self-Talk Impacts Intimacy with Your Partner

To get started, consider these common ways your intimate time together may be affected:

#1: Negative Self-Talk is an Attack on Your Desire to be Known, Loved, and Accepted

When you are at your most vulnerable, wanting closeness and tenderness, negative self-talk can take advantage of your emotional tender spots.
It picks at anything and everything that makes you insecure and self-conscious. Soon your lover’s gaze feels uncomfortable. You may not want the light on. Or, your defenses go up about what you’ve shared together.

As a result, you withdraw or pull away, insecure about pursuing anything closer.
Negative self-talk can keep us in our heads, too absorbed in bullying ourselves to notice that we’re attacking intimacy, as well.

#2: Negative Self-Talk Weakens Your Feelings for Your Partner

Negative self-talk isn’t satisfied to stay on its own side of the street. It will attack your choices and eventually your choice of partner. Your own negative thoughts become a dark lens, destroying the positive, loving view you once had of your partner. Over time, you may even notice that you’ve become comfortable saying critical and cynical things to yourself about your partner or their attempts to get close to you.

What negative self-talk do you notice affecting your treatment of your partner? Do you wrestle with persistent thoughts that you need to back away from someone who (1) couldn’t really love you, (2) isn’t serious about your relationship, or (3) probably isn’t who they seem?

Perhaps you withdraw from your partner as your self-talk exaggerates little annoyances and personality differences. Do their flaws become an excuse to resist vulnerability and deeper interaction?

# 3: Negative Self-Talk Attacks Your Love Story

Negativity can get even sneakier and more subversive as it becomes a regular narrative, wedging itself between you and your partner.
You may sabotage your relationship and your desire to be intimate with thoughts that your relationship can’t survive or that it never was as strong a connection as you thought.

A constant stream of this type of thinking robs your union of fun and pleasant togetherness. Without correction, your partner may indeed succumb to the hopeless distance and give up on trying to draw closer.

Changing Your Negative Inner Narrative

It’s time to put your inner bully in its place. Quiet down the mean-spirited drain on your attempts to be intimate, and address the thoughts that drive it.

You have a choice. Choose to change your mind.

Find solid support and guidance from trusted friends and family or seek assistance from a counselor to help you switch the inner negative narrative to a positive one. Then commit to the proactive practice of challenging negativity. With practice, you can ward off negativity and discover the joys of love and intimacy freely again.

You may even find that loving yourself is a wonderful aphrodisiac!

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If your inner negative narrative is creating barriers between you and your partner, we can help restore intimacy. Schedule an appointment with Grace by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online at the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How to Deal with Condescension and Criticism in Your Marriage

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Do you find yourself succumbing to critical thoughts when disapproving of your partner’s behavior? If so, you may in dangerous marital territory.

When negativity, criticism, and a condescending, superior attitude begin creep in to your marriage, you may be on a slippery slope toward letting these relationship-damaging factors begin to override the positives in your relationship.

Hurtful, damaging behaviors such as criticism and contempt may be difficult to identify as it often becomes ingrained in spousal interactions over time. Consequently, it becomes an unfortunate and alienating part of your communication.

Marriage is meant to be a safe, accepting environment.  The last thing you want is for your partner to resent and avoid you. Yet, your relationship will suffer if you don’t have a plan to avoid and recover from such negative obstacles.

Here are steps toward putting a stop to this negative behavior and begin to heal your relationship:

What Do Condescension and Criticism Look or Sound Like in Marriage?

If a condescending tone and criticism in your marriage are routine, it may be difficult to accurately identify them because you have become accustomed to this pattern of communication.

However, with mindful and diligent attention, eventually you can identify unproductive exchanges and hurtful communication. Sometimes contempt and criticism will be hidden in humor or sarcasm. Most often, criticism comes out so easily that you are unaware of it. The first step is to be aware of your hurtful words and negative behaviors, and then review and challenge your own thoughts and commentary repeatedly to make the necessary change.

For example, ask yourself the following:

  • Are your compliments genuine?

  • Are you constantly correcting your partner?

  • Do you in any way demean or dismiss your partner?

  • Do you often take over conversations or limit your partner’s expression?

  • Do you use the word “you” often when having a disagreement with your spouse?

Additionally, take stock of any power struggles in your relationship.  How respectful are you of each other’s needs, time, careers, and parenting styles? Do you both feel that the marriage allows for growth and change without ridicule or resentments?

Why It’s Crucial to Nip Negative Communication Now

Continuing condescension or criticism in your marriage hurts you both. Though you may release steam in the moment, you slowly erode your connection and damage your marriage.

When you use contempt and criticism in communication with your partner, you question your partner’s worth and character, insinuating that you feel you are superior to them. As a result, loving feelings and goodwill deteriorate, straining your bond. Ultimately, condescension and criticism build walls of dissatisfaction and disconnection in your marriage. Closeness, intimacy and forward movement are lost.

How to Cut Out a Habit of Condescension and Criticizing Each Other

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted responsibility for your offensive words and behaviors, you’ll need to commit to a better communication practice. Try these:

  • Forgive yourselves and each other for the negativity.

  • Commit to practice better, more edifying interaction.

  • Practice more active listening to understand your partner, and less opinion-sharing and advice-giving.

  • Assess your own feelings and emotions, and use “I statements” to express your disappointments to your partner.

  • Talk about your expectations, listen to your partner’s expectations, and learn to be more generous toward each other.

Lastly, try to shift your perspective and become more open to dialogue and compromise. Train your mind to look for positives rather than negatives. Actively look for ways to be grateful and express your appreciation to your spouse. These actions will help break down the tendency to use condescension and criticism in your marriage as verbal ways to connect.

Remember, too, that stress and anxiety can negatively impact a marital connection. Check-in with yourself and your partner to ensure emotions have a voice and that you’re available to support each other. Release steam together instead of at each other.

Finally…

Healthy communication is vital for the life and success of your marriage. If you recognize a pattern of damaging condescension and criticism in your marriage, seek the help and guidance of a skilled couple and marriage counselor.  You and your partner can find more loving, supportive ways to express yourself and your needs, which will repair and reinforce the foundation of your marriage.

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If you recognize any of your own marital patterns in this post, Ellen Rohr, M.Ed, LPC at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin can help. To schedule an appointment, give Ellen a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong When Struggling with Anxiety

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.