Marriage/Couples

Constructive Solutions: Develop These 6 Powerful Relationship Skills

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By David Wachsman, MC

From all angles, there are relationships that need nurturing—professional connections, friendships, family members, and, of course, romantic partners.

Strangely enough, it’s our most intimate relationships that often draw the short straw. Sometimes, we completely forget to employ our most basic relationship skills with our loved ones. Forgetting these basic skills can result in creating unnecessary distance, miscommunication, and misunderstanding.

To nurture the closeness between you and your partner, keep the following relationship skills in mind. In addition to creating closeness, these skills will support your partner in their own life endeavors as well as catapult you toward success in many ways.

After all, relationship skills are the kind of abilities that trickle over into many areas of life.

Here are six ways you can get started.

1. Practice Empathy

Familiarity can frequently intrude on our natural tendency to be empathetic toward our partner. We may get used to them complaining about work difficulties or issues with their extended family, for example. Little by little, we may stop listening and genuinely caring about those concerns.

Remember that true empathy can go a long way toward creating a strong bond between you and your partner. It’s as simple as making an effort to put yourself in your partner’s place when they are experiencing a rough patch.

2. Take Perspective

To practice the essential relationship skill of taking perspective, make it a point to really try to understand your partner and have genuine concern for what they are going through. This means holding back any natural urge to give advice or try to “fix” a situation for them.

In this frame of mind, you may have a difficult time seeing anything from your partner’s point of view. Being unable to take perspective is a bit more than simply believing you know what is best. Rather, it goes as far as making the effort to understand what they’re going through and validating what they are feeling, without making judgments, even if you don’t agree with your partner’s point of view.

3. Show Affection

People thrive on physical touch.

Consider how much you express your positive emotions by hugging, touching, or caressing your partner. An affirming and supportive touch can mean the world to them. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big event. It could be something as simple as holding hands or a quick kiss on the cheek.

4. Be Trustworthy

This may seem like a no-brainer, but being trustworthy goes beyond the margins of fidelity that many of us assume.

For example, do you keep intimate information private between the two of you? Or, do you gab about your partner’s personal struggles with your friends? Do you make fun of your partner’s ideas when they’re out of hearing range?

Regardless of what others do, keep in mind that it’s important to be the person your partner can trust with their emotions, their thoughts, and their experiences.

5. Support Positive Experiences

When you’re one part of a couple, it’s important to be a cheerleader for your partner. After all, they’re counting on you to be in their corner and support them even when their endeavors flop.

In addition to being supportive, try to extend that sense of validation beyond what’s already taking place. For example, make it a point to go try new things together such as going out to eat at a new restaurant, or taking a class together.

Humans crave novelty and fresh experiences to enrich their overall level of life satisfaction. So, go and tackle life together, and bask in the closeness your adventures provide.

6. Rebound from a Conflict Quickly

Take stock of how quickly you get over a disagreement or argument.

Disputes are bound to happen in a close relationship. Yet, a couple certainly doesn’t need to nosedive down to the bottom of the argument ocean every time a conflict presents itself. Part of fighting fair is allowing the conflict to come to a healthy resolution or compromise, rather than letting it hang over your relationship like a dark cloud for several hours or days.

Learn to repair after conflict with your partner. Own your part of the way the disagreement was handled. Be specific about what you are apologizing for or regret. Listen to your partner. Be respectful.

Building a healthy, intimate relationship can be a challenge in today’s modern world, but these relationship skills can help you get there. 


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David Wachsman, MC, LPC Intern, works with clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to build healthy, intimate relationships with their significant others. David can help you practice and employ different communication skills to deepen understanding with your partner. If you or your partner are seeking guidance to strengthen your bond, try giving David a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 119, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

12 Enjoyable, Non-Sexual Ways to Boost Intimacy!

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Boost intimacy without sexual contact? Yes, you can!

Of course, sex plays a very important role in a long-term relationship. However, intercourse is just one path to a loving, satisfied union. There are many other lovely ways to feel connected and close to your partner.

Take into consideration the daily discussions, rituals, and bonding moments you share with your partner on a day-to-day basis. Even non-sexual interactions such as these should be honored and cherished. After all, they are often the backbone of your relationship!

So what happens when those moments start to wane, become repetitive, or seem a little stale?

Never fear! Read and employ the following list meant to make sure you can boost emotional and physical intimacy a little more each day:

1. Start the Day with Pillow talk and a Cuddle

Before life rushes in to steal you away from each other, roll over for a bit of snuggling and face-to-face connection.

2. Establish Separation and Reunion Rituals

It’s comforting to know you are missed when you are gone and welcomed when you return. Stoke the fires between you by sending each other off warmly with a lingering kiss and a long embrace. Greet each other similarly, even add a boxed dessert or glass of wine to sweeten the moments you come together again.

3. Hold Hands to Boost Intimacy

There’s nothing like the sense of connection that comes with holding hands. When your partner reaches for you, it feels good to be seen and wanted. The sense of safety and comfort that comes from bonding through simple, non-sexual touch is invaluable.

4. Ensure that Fond Feelings Flourish

Kill the tendency to criticize and nitpick. Keep each other’s positive characteristics and attributes in the forefront of your minds. Express more positivity than negativity. Compliment and celebrate your partner. Accept each other’s flaws with grace and love.

5. Use Your Tech to Touch Base

Our screens tend to distract and divide our attention, stealing intimate moments. Take charge of your tech. Put it to work daily as a date night scheduling, love-text writing, “just called to say I love you” machine.

6. Faithfully “Turn Toward” Your Partner

Well-known relationship expert and researcher John Gottman notes that you can boost intimacy when you make every effort to turn toward your partner’s bids for attention and connection. Be good listeners, show empathy and compassion. Turning away or against your partner will result in resentment and broken connection.

7. Send Your Love through Snail Mail

Who doesn’t love a love letter? It says that your partner took time to consider your connection, write out their feelings, and send it to you the old-fashioned way. It is lovely and endearing to read and reread pages that cannot be deleted or lost if you lose your phone.

8. Go Green: Candlelight Dinners and Long Walks

Turn out the lights and save on gas several nights a week, all while building the romance and intimacy into your evenings. Make plans to slow down. Look deeply into each other’s eyes over a meal. Walk and talk afterward… hold hands too!

9.  Share Your Sweetheart’s Enthusiasm

Do you and your partner have beloved hobbies or interests? Why not throw yourselves into each other’s favorite activities? Simply demonstrating that you want to understand each other’s enjoyment speaks volumes. Sharing it with them can be loads of fun.

10. Do More Life Together

It seems simple, but we often forgo intimacy in the simplest ways. Deepen affection and connection by sharing all kinds of everyday chores and activities. Run errands, get groceries, and cook meals together. Seek each other out. Enjoy each other, reminisce, make the mundane fun.

11. Don’t Hold Back on Daily Gratitude

When you show each other appreciation, you build intimacy immediately. Knowing that your partner considers you a gift strengthens the bond. You’ll want to continue pleasing each other and giving each other reasons to think highly of one another.

12. Share, Talk, Laugh, Repeat.

Communicate with curiosity, common ground, and connection as your primary goals. Practice being able to converse, have conflict, and come together again with a strong sense that you belong to each other, even through disagreement.

Work on remaining open and vulnerable. Encourage deep sharing and make time for it.

Give each other room to table issues if you need to and interject humor (but never at your partner’s expense) to maintain your connection as much as possible. Most of all, don’t let any issue drive a wedge between you. Passion and friendship will both be boosted by a willingness to come together to repair your relationship when necessary and reconnect without long delays.

Ultimately, boost intimacy in ways that make you comfortable and bring delight to each other. Relish your connection and make the most of love.


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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are looking to reclaim the spark in their relationship. If you and your partner are seeking therapy to enhance intimacy—in or out of the bedroom—give Jill a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, to schedule an appointment. You can also request a session online by visiting our RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy and How Can It Help Your Relationship?

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Relationships often need support to remain strong. That’s where Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) comes in.

When you are in a close relationship, you want to maintain your emotional connection while successfully managing conflict.

What is required to do these things? A deep attachment to your partner or loved one.

Of course, life happens to relationships. People get busy. We get stressed and short with each other. We drift away, resentment builds, and closeness can be replaced with distance and compromised communication.

Can you recover your closeness?

The answer is yes! Couples are often well supported in this effort by this evidenced-based approach.

What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

The attachments and bonds that support intimate relationships shape the premise of Emotionally Focused Therapy. This type of therapy specifically centers on love and the bonding process among adults. Developed by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the 1980s, Emotionally Focused Therapy is relatively short-term method of couples therapy. Generally covering between 8-20 therapist-led sessions, the method is grounded in well-supported relationship research. Overall, love is viewed as an attachment bond between partners. One that can be hampered or stifled by unaddressed, negative communication practices.

Emotionally Focused Therapy closely examines emotional patterns that arise from a key fear in close relationships — the fear of abandonment. Yet the goal is not to spend a great deal of time delving deeply into the pain or trauma of the past. Instead, EFT is an active, present mode of therapy. It investigates your current relationships and the behavior patterns you exhibit within them.

Basically, Emotionally Focused Therapy can help you and those you care about build secure and lasting bonds. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to mend weakened intimate connections.

How Does EFT Work?

Emotionally Focused Therapy tackles the here and now. Your skilled EFT therapist essentially helps facilitate the discovery of negative or unhelpful patterns and individual behaviors in your current relationship.

Primarily, this is done via talk therapy. As you and your loved one discuss conditions and circumstances that have affected your relationship, you’ll share your feelings as well. In addition, you’ll share the ways you can resolve issues between you.

In EFT sessions, your therapist observes relationship dynamics and helps you see what may be eroding your connection. After identifying areas of concern, you try to determine, within your relationship, how the issues came to be. Then, the usual next step is to devise a more productive strategy for reconnecting and managing conflict well.

You can expect compassion from your therapist. They will listen and question without judgment. You will be given the chance to recognize and fully understand your own emotions. Learning to welcome, allow, and regulate your emotions is key.

Soon, your ability to better assess, respond to, and manage emotions is improved, as well.

EFT is generally thought to have been successful when the couple in therapy has increased awareness of their emotional experience. They may also have an improved ability to regulate their feelings and transform unhelpful emotions.

What Can EFT Do For You?

Emotionally Focused Therapy helps you and your partner reclaim your connection. By engaging in the process, allowing yourselves to be vulnerable, and committing to lasting change in your relationship, you will be enhancing the effectiveness of EFT. As you and the therapist work together, a new way of functioning and relating starts to emerge. You may notice that you no longer allow poor habits and unproductive behaviors to keep you distant and detached from your partner.

Most of all, everyday interactions will benefit. For couples, intimacy, both emotional and physical, improves. The relationship rebounds instead of falling apart. Essentially, EFT provides a lifelong tool for getting close, and staying that way.


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 Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin by using Emotionally Focused Therapy. If you and your partner are seeking to discover negative patterns in your relationship and reclaim your close connection, Jill’s training in EFT may be the right approach for you. To schedule a session, call Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How Happy Couples Handle Disagreements: Tips for Conflict Management

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By Jim Duncan, MA

Have you ever heard of a couple who claimed to never fight with each other? As if learning to handle disagreements was a step they were fortunate enough to skip?

You might wonder how a “no fighting” relationship is even possible. The truth is, it’s not!

Arguments, disagreements, and conflicts will occur in an intimate relationship. It’s a normal part of any relationship. The key to successful conflict management is how the conflict is handled.

To get you started on the right foot, managing conflict like the happy couple you want to be requires a plan of action. You already know that learning to handle disagreements is a part of your relationship. It makes sense to have a plan in place for when those pitfalls occur.

Here’s how to make a conflict management plan like the happy couples do.

“Know Thyself” to Handle Disagreements Well

First, it’s vital to know how you respond to any type of conflict, friction, or confrontation. As you may have imagined, to “know thyself” requires some intense honesty on your part.

For example, do you have a compulsion for communication, desiring to talk it out? Or, does your blood boil, and you need a minute to step back from the situation to retract your claws?

Some might believe that there is a perfect way to respond to conflict—calm, cool, and collected. Yet, the funny thing about humans is that we’re not perfect. So, work with what you know about yourself to support the best results.

Respect Resolution Styles (and Triggers)

To go along with the previous point, be sure to know your partner’s resolution styles as well as your own. The same goes for their emotional triggers, too.

It may be difficult for the communicative partner to give some space to the blood-boiling partner. This is why it’s so important to have your plan of action in place before you approach a disagreement.

Happy couples take the time to get to know the inner workings of each other. Furthermore, they respect each other’s resolution styles.

Put the Blinders On

A common tip floating around online articles and magazines is to stick to the task at hand. It’s a solid key to better conflict management!

Happy couples fight about one thing at a time—not the socks on the floor, how the dog still needs his bath, or that awful gift from 10 years ago.

To handle disagreements like a happy couple, stay focused on the one issue at hand.

Keep It Above the Belt

When you stick to one issue at a time, fighting fair becomes much easier. However, it’s important to constantly remind yourself to keep it clean.

What this means is that your partner is your safe zone. You are your partner’s safe zone, as well. You share intimate details about your life with each other.

Ultimately, that sort of information should be handled with respect. Intimate information isn’t meant to be used against someone else simply to win a battle.

In short, don’t take cheap shots. Happy couples take the long way around a disagreement to come to a resolution.

Wear the Same Colors

Most importantly, being part of a couple is a lot like being part of a team. A good way to think of your partner is as that special person on your side of the playing field. The two of you wear the same team colors. A disagreement doesn’t automatically make them the opposition.

Remember, you’re trying to find a solution to the problem by tackling it together, not to ultimately win a battle.

Add Some Humor

Finally, when you take the team concept to heart, don’t forget to splash the conflict with some humor. Light humor, never at your partner’s expense, can help bring down tension and reset escalated emotions.

Even during a disagreement, your relationship is still the same one it’s been up until now. Find comfort in that.

Of course, there is a time to be very serious, but you’re also both imperfect humans. Which can be a laughing matter all on its own.


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Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who seek to improve their communication techniques with one another. For support in learning to handle disagreements and develop stronger conflict resolution skills with your partner, schedule a session with Jim. To make an appointment, give him a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 117, or submit an online appointment request on the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

 

Communication in Relationships: Stop Struggling to Talk to Your Partner!

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By Jim Duncan, MA

Have you noticed lately that you are struggling to communicate with your partner? If you are finding it harder to talk about important problems or even the everyday struggles, you are not alone.

Good communication is the foundation of every relationship, yet, we sometimes struggle to have even basic conversations.

Since we love and care about our partner, talking to them about anything should be easy, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

If you have noticed that your communication is lacking, you have already identified the problem. This is an important first step!

Now, you and your partner can work together to improve over time.

Mastering Communication Skills

Learning to communicate well takes time. Many of us are not born being strong communicators or effective listeners—these skills take practice to develop.

There is no overnight fix if you and your partner are struggling to communicate. To improve the communication within your relationship, you will both need to put in the effort and the time.

Here are several tips to help you and your partner learn to master the art of effective communication:

Designate a Place

While you are learning or re-learning great communication skills, you will need to consider your environment. Some places simply are not conducive to having a meaningful conversation—crowded malls, loud restaurants, and even in some areas of your home.

For the best chance at success, designate an appropriate place to have conversations with your partner. This could be during a walk around the neighborhood, at the kitchen table, or in the car during a long drive. By making the location of your conversations intentional, you and your partner will be able to communicate more effectively.

Designate a Time

Just as the location of your conversations is crucial, so is the timing. For successful communication, you and your partner need to consider the best times of day for your conversations.

Set aside a time that works for both of you, making sure to factor in personality preferences, as well. Are you an early bird while your partner is a night owl? Do you love to chat during mealtimes, but your partner would rather relax quietly? If the two of you are struggling to connect, designate a specific window of time to talk—and stick to it, even when your schedules change.

Listen More Than You Talk

For most of us, talking comes naturally. It’s usually the listening side of conversation that needs some work.

To be a successful communicator, you must learn to listen more than you talk. Make your partner feel heard and understood by giving them plenty of time to speak without fear of interruption. Rather than focusing on how you are going to respond, redirect your attention to what your partner has to say and make an effort to truly hear every word.

Focus on the Face-to-Face

In our digital world, it can be tempting to rely on text messages for many of our conversations. The truth is, however, that typed messages can be misinterpreted—not to mention that they remove body language and non-verbal cues from the equation.

Keep all important conversations strictly in-person. And avoid relying too heavily on your digital devices to communicate with your partner.

Considering Couples Counseling

If you and your partner have been actively working on your communication skills for a few months and are not seeing much progress, you may benefit from professional guidance.

Couples counselors, for example, are trained to help couples communicate more effectively. Additionally, therapy provides a safe space where you feel more comfortable discussing your feelings and asking for help.


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Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples in all stages of their relationship at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you and your partner find yourselves lacking tools to effectively discuss anything from big problems to small everyday struggles, we can help. To schedule an appointment with Jim, give him a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 117, or request an appointment with him online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

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.