Understanding the Importance of your Family of Origin


By Sarah Wilson, PhD

Your beginnings matter.

The who and how of your initial life experiences made lasting impressions that ripple through your life today. For better or worse, your family of origin is the place to start for key information about who you are and how you relate to others.

For all of us, the family dynamics in our original family system impact our values, core beliefs, and our self-perceptions.

Long after childhood, how we were once socialized and nurtured continues to guide us. Moreover, the traumas and challenges we navigated within our families at a young age deserve careful exploration. It is an integral way to improve self-awareness and internal understanding.

For some of us, our “family of origin” is simply the family we grew up with. For others, your family of origin includes important caretakers or may even include a first social group, depending on aspects of your culture, social class, and other societal factors that affect who was responsible for raising you.

Overall, the family of origin relationships are profound, initial influences on your decision-making, investment in relationships, and overall sense of well-being.  

Let’s consider in more detail, the importance and impact your family of origin may have on you:

The Importance of Family of Origin

Exploring your family of origin can improve understanding of how your family impacts your relationships now and how to make important changes. Though highly influential, early problems do not have to continually impact your current and future relationships in a negative manner.

Optimally, on a basic level, members of a family should expect that they are worthy of positive and respectful interaction and encouragement. When this works well, the following dynamics are also common:

  • An expectation of physical, emotional, and psychological safety are givens.

  • Each member is empowered to identify as both a family member and an individual.

  • Each family member is empowered to grow into adulthood, with all the responsibilities and consequences that accompany adult choices.

  • Manipulation, aggression, and violation of relationship boundaries are not tolerated or supported.

  • Each family member has a voice, even if a member’s voice is a dissenting one.

However, families rarely execute all of this perfectly.

Depending on how far your caregivers or parents fell short of providing a beneficial environment for your emotional and social development, you may be suffering from issues connected to relationship attachment, emotional safety and expression, anxiety, and beyond. In essence, your family of origin is the standard by which you measure your relationships.

For example, a cycle of neglect and anxiety early on, makes it feel natural to read withdrawal or abandonment into adult relationships later. Unhealthy coping behaviors must be unlearned. Healthy perspectives must replace them.

This isn’t easy. However, it’s worth the work to avoid repeating the negative patterns of your early life.

The Impact of Family of Origin

Still unconvinced that family of origin has such a long-term impact on adults? Let’s consider how the problems below link to early socialization.

Enmeshment Stifles and Suffocates Your Personal Growth

Some families of origin are too close. You may have grown up in a family that brooks no movement away from the family traditions, culture, religion, political beliefs, or resources. You may feel resentful but unprepared for life away from your family. This can lead to depression, broken relationships, and a lack of personal motivation throughout your adult years.

Early High-Conflict, Unstable Relationships Impact Your Ability to Communicate Now

If you grew up exposed to yelling and intense interaction, you may feel that sort of communication is normal or acceptable. Unhealthy relationships and conflict may result in damage to your marriage, work relationships, and friendships. Perhaps, all relationships feel unsafe and untrustworthy to you.

Childhood Trauma can Disrupt Self-perception & Socialization

The after effects of abuse or tragedy are varied and often deeply rooted. Low self-esteem, intimacy issues, depression, and anxiety are common. Working with an experienced therapist is very important for understanding the core beliefs and defense mechanisms activated and affected by physical and/or psychological trauma at an early age.

Experiencing Neglect, Indifference, or an Absence of Love

Did you grow up physically cared for but emotionally neglected? Then you likely made assumptions about your worth. You likely wondered if something was wrong with you, if you were unlovable, or whether you even had a right to love.

As an adult, you may struggle to accept love or trust affection from others, especially a significant other. Or, you may swing hard the other direction. Perhaps you are clingy or demanding, attempting to secure the love you never had.

Awareness through examination of your family of origin gives perspective. Also, you gain the ability to be less reactionary and more intentional about love and relationships. It is critical to get a handle on how your experiences have impacted you. Learn how to create new beliefs, adjust thought patterns, and change behaviors where necessary.
If you’re struggling to determine why you feel a sense of being stuck in your life, professional support can make a difference.

Healing the Past and Creating a New Path

Finally, addressing family of origin issues can help you to live a richer, more deeply connected life. Patterns that negatively impact your relationships and self-image deserve your attention sooner, rather than later. Understanding and resolving your early wounds can help you to gain the internal peace and freedom you long for.

Moving forward with support and the proper tools can bring healing and emotional well-being.


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If you are ready to address your family of origin problems or concerns, please contact Dr. Sarah Wilson, LMFT Associate, at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at (512) 270-4883, ext. 104, or by requesting an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Reducing Family Arguments, Conflict, and Debate: 5 Tips to Keep Friction to a Minimum


By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

A family is a complicated thing.  Gathered around a holiday meal or celebrating a mutual milestone, your family may experience a host of highs and lows as you navigate a myriad of emotions and perspectives about each other’s respective lives.

Family members are usually the people who love us, support us, and encourage us. However, they can also be the people with whom we fight the most.

Why are family arguments often more stressful than other arguments? To start with, it can feel terrible to fight with the people who know us the best. Moreover, your conflicts may be rooted in long-standing, unresolved issues that can bubble to the surface during family gatherings and sudden close, daily interaction.

Even if you aren’t actually discussing those old issues, they can play a role in how you feel about each other. Most of us don’t want to feel resentful or angry with those closest to us. Therefore, it is beneficial to learn how to keep friction to a minimum. Here are five helpful tips for the holidays and beyond:

1. Simply Don’t Engage

It takes two people to argue. If you refuse to participate in the argument, it can’t go anywhere. By not responding or reacting, you diffuse the situation.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. Your family members know exactly how to get under your skin. If they are used to arguing with you in a certain way, then they will be uncomfortable when you don’t engage. Therefore, they may try even harder to pull you into the argument.

If at all possible, disengage. Options include:

  • Taking slow, deep breaths until you can respond calmly

  • Counting backward from ten (or one hundred!)

  • Doing a body scan to notice tension and release it

  • Telling your family member that you need time to think about what they’ve said

  • Respectfully stating that you don’t want to have a disagreement, and calmly walking away

2. Ask Questions

Arguments happen because both people believe they are right. You are each locked into your own positions. Moreover, you are trying to change the other person’s mind. Instead, try becoming curious about the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree with them, but you can work to understand them without trying to change their opinion. As you soften your position by getting to know theirs, they may do the same for you.

3. Use “I” Statements

Speak from a place of your own truth. State what you think, feel, and believe. However, make it clear that you know that this is just your experience. Express an interest in sharing your experience without blaming, shaming, or arguing. Use the following framework:

  • I feel (blank)

  • When (blank happens)

  • This makes me want to (blank)

  • I’d like to do (blank) instead

For example, “I feel anxious when people start raising their voices. This makes me want to run away. I’d like to be able to have a quiet conversation instead.” This is more effective than, “You are so mean, and if you yell at me again, I’m leaving.”

4. Use “Yes, and” Statements

Another effective way to reduce family arguments is to agree with everyone. Acknowledge that they have a valid point of view. Use, “yes, and” statements to convey that you are on their side. At the same time, these statements allow you to speak your truth.

For example, let’s say that your brother-in-law calls you selfish. You can argue until your blue in the face about how unselfish you are. However, he will probably not agree. Instead, try saying, “yes, sometimes I can be a little bit selfish, and I do that because I am scared that if I don’t stand up for myself, then no one else will.”

5. Open Up Communication Slowly and Steadily

The midst of an argument is not the time to resolve big family issues. It takes time and hard work to solve family arguments. Therefore, start slowly. Begin by just opening up to your family members in small ways. Share more of yourself. Over time, it will become easier for everyone to calmly share their truths.

There are many underlying issues that lead to family arguments. Therapy can help you identify the issues, work toward resolution and understanding, and learn how to make family gatherings the joy you know they can be.


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Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Lauren’s use of mindfulness practices in her therapeutic approach helps her clients enter a state of mind which is calm, receptive, and balanced. To schedule your appointment with Lauren, you can reach her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 114, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How to Make Your Date Nights More Mindful


By Jill Baumgarner, MA

No matter how long you and your partner have been together, the benefits of a regular and refreshing date night can do your relationships a lot of good. Especially if you can come together mindfully and mentally ready to focus on nourishing your relationship. 

Mindfulness can be one of the loveliest gifts partner’s give each other. The practice of being present can help you get the most out of your date nights. Finding ways to remain aware and in tune with each other will fuel a deeper sense of connection, confidence in your bond, and anticipation regarding upcoming dates.

Enjoy an overall boost in your individual enjoyment and the wellbeing of your relationship. Consider the following ways to incorporate mindfulness in your date night routine:

Know Yourself & Elevate Your Energy

Pay attention to your emotions, attitude, and energy. They directly impact your enjoyment, ability to engage and mutual experience.

If you are feeling frustrated with your partner or are overwhelmed by work responsibilities, the date will probably not go well.

Take some time before the date to be quiet and still. Observe the tension in your body and the flow of your thoughts. Breathe deeply and allow the negative energy to dissipate. Inhale calm, exhale negativity. Concentrate on the positive aspects of your relationship. Let go of negative self-talk. 

You may even want to track your emotions and thoughts with a journal. The practice of being honest with yourself fosters an increased tendency to be open and honest with your partner. The better you know and understand yourself, the better partner you can be.

Practice Present, Conscious Communication

Date night is an excellent opportunity for meaningful, mindful conversation. Use the time to get a clear picture of your partner’s feelings and needs. Try the following to support and encourage closeness and caring interaction:
Ask questions like, “how do you feel right now?” and “what do you need from me?” Really listen and consider the responses with interest and compassion.

Avoid making assumptions or passing judgments about each other’s perspectives. It’s easy to think you know your partner so well that you can read their mind and emotions without much effort, however this practice can lead to shallow connection over time.

Instead, be intentional about taking the time to be curious and observant of your partner’s passions, needs, and perspectives.  Put away your smartphones and other distractions to focus in.

Expand your Options, Take your Time & Pay Attention

To truly enjoy date nights, slow down and pay attention to the moments you’re sharing. This is often better accomplished by choosing dates that are less passive and more prone to active engagement.

Fewer movies and more dancing, visits to an art museum, or picnics along a hiking trail will give you opportunities to enjoy one another. You can see each other in new ways, observe each other in various contexts, and continue to learn about each other’s preferences, hidden talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

Set Reasonable Expectations, Relax, and Enjoy!

Often partners don’t recognize that they have overblown expectations for the one night they set aside to connect. While date night is great for the emotional health of your relationship, don’t put too much pressure on yourselves or each other to solve all the unresolved issues of your union.  Allow date night to be a tool by keeping the following in mind:

  • Don’t try to accomplish too much. Reserve this time for connection and refreshment of your relationship. Enjoy the date for what it is and move forward.

  • Balance your expectations. Go on your date expecting to have fun and deepen your friendship. Share your wants and needs but don’t make demands. Keep communication open and supportive.

  • Smile, laugh and play together.

Let the date ebb and flow easily. Don’t focus on controlling each other or the activity. Make space to relax and see where the date takes you.

Take Time to Reflect

After your date nights, take some time to reflect on your time together. Use your journal to reflect personally. Share with a therapist as a couple. Reflection and sharing with an objective counselor can provide insight and improve your connection, shoring up the foundation of your relationship as you go along.

Date nights are only meaningful if you and your partner are actually engaged and intentional about tuning in mentally, physically,  and emotionally. Use mindfulness to take care of yourselves and refocus on each other. The more self-aware, relationship conscious, and curious you can be, the more enjoyable your date nights will be, and your relationship will blossom.


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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Jill specializes in helping couples restore intimacy and communicate effectively with one another about feelings, needs, and desires. To schedule your appointment with Jill, contact her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Burned Out? Stressed Out? On the Edge of a Blowout? How to Stay Calm at Work

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By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

Whether you love your job or wish you clocked in elsewhere, burnout happens. “Content” and “calm” are not words that most of us would readily identify with when we are on the clock.

Between busy schedules and demanding projects, it’s easy to feel weighed down by the stresses of the workplace. Unfortunately, many of us don’t handle the pressure well.

Fatigue, exhaustion, extra stress, and even depression are not uncommon among the working population. Furthermore, we often won’t take time to recover. Bottling up stress can lead to reactionary irritation and angry blowouts.

If this pattern continues for too long, you may find that your productivity, work relationships, and career advancement decline quite negatively.

After all, you can’t hold in your feelings forever.

Let’s look at how you can avoid angry blowouts by controlling frustration and promoting relaxation.

Think About Why You’re Angry

Maybe someone’s personality is rubbing you the wrong way. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Whatever the case, before you blow up at someone, really think about why you’re angry.

When you take the time to process your anger, you’ll have a better chance of controlling it. More often than not, getting angry isn’t the right solution for your problem. It’s okay to feel frustrated or disappointed, but there are other outlets to manage those feelings.

Control Your Response to Support Calm at Work

Try choosing a positive way to control your response, especially your physical response.

A quick remedy is to immediately start doing something, try taking a walk, counting to ten, or even taking a deep breath. Though simple, these acts will often give you the small bit of space and clarity needed to control your reaction.

However, controlling your responses long-term is easier when you are healthy and taking care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well. Do whatever you need to do to get back to a healthier state, physically and mentally.

Let Go of Situations That Are Out of Your Control

There are some situations in the workplace you can control, and some you can’t.

It’s important to recognize that forfeiting feeling calm at work and getting angry over things you can’t control will never leave you feeling satisfied or better about the situation. Really, it’s a waste of your valuable energy.

Take a look at the situation that is making you angry. If you can’t do anything to resolve it, the best thing you can do is let it go.

If something is in your control and you can resolve it, it’s still best to avoid doing that with anger. Try to look at it from a constructive standpoint, and figure out what you can do to solve the problem.

Talk to Your Employer

Sharing your feelings with your employer can make a big difference.

Talking to your boss or human resources department can foster understanding about your out-of-character behavior. You may both determine that you need some time off or fewer responsibilities.

Many times, employers are willing to work with employees to ensure they’re happy, healthy, and calm at work. Don’t be afraid to approach your boss or supervisor about your fatigue. Chances are, you’ll both come up with tactics that provide you with a measure of contentment and relaxation.

Restoring calm and avoiding anger blowouts at work is, admittedly, easier said than done. Especially if you’re already feeling you’ve reached the end of your line. However, if you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, you’ll be less likely to experience those pent-up feelings of anger in an ongoing way.

The tools provided by a therapist can help you find calm at work and support well-being wherever you are. Let’s meet for a consultation to help you begin seeking your peace now rather than later.


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Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, LPC Intern, works with adults at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to help cultivate positive, personal growth and access the inner wisdom that resides in each of us. Lauren’s calm approach to counseling is influenced by her mindfulness practices and her ability to help clients integrate mind and body as they explore their past emotional experiences. To schedule an appointment with Lauren, you can reach her at (512) 270-4883, ext, 114, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

3 Key Reasons Healthy Communication Builds Stronger Families


By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Communication is key.

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

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

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

1. Promotes Calm Conversations

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

Healthy communication involves listening – really listening.

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

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

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

2. Builds Trust

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

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

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

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

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

3. You Become a Role Model

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

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

So how do you find clarity?

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

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

1. Locate Where You Are Now

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

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

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

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

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

2. Identify Your Passions

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

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

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

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

3. Pursue Those Passions

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

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

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

Find Balance with Your Passions

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

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

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

A Word of Advice - Never Settle

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

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

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

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


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Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, is a licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For help identifying your passions and finding your own path to personal growth, request an appointment with Lauren by calling (512) 270-4883, ext.114, or online at the RCC Austin Scheduling page.


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


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

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

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

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

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

1. You Don’t Feel Like Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

2. There’s No Authentic Communication

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

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

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

3. You’re in Denial

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

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

4. There’s No Way to Make It Work

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

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

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

5. You’re Not Genuinely Happy

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

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

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

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


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

A Strong Relationship: How Couples Counseling Helps You Build It


By Summer Hough, MA

Even the best relationships have room for improvement.

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

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

Couples Counseling Isn’t Just for Bad Times

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

Couples counseling during the good times includes these benefits:

  • Building your communication skills with one another

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

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

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

3 Key Ways to Build a Strong Relationship

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

1. Avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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

2. Learning Love Languages

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

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

3. Crossing the Bridge

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

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

Building a Strong Relationship in Small Steps

What have we learned so far? The best thing you can do for your relationship is to give couples counseling a try. You don’t need to wait until there is “trouble in paradise” before you make that first appointment. Therapists can offer you a diverse range of tools for building a strong relationship foundation. Learning and practicing important communication techniques like avoiding the four horsemen, speaking in love languages, and crossing the bridge go a long way toward making each conversation you have with your partner better than the last.


Summer Hough, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to help rebuild connections and strengthen relationships. To book an appointment with Summer, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 110, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

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


By Roy Faget, MA

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

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

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

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

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

What Is EMDR Therapy?

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

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

A summary of these steps includes:

1. History and Treatment Planning

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

2. Preparation

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

3. Assessment

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

4. Desensitization

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

5. Installation

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

6. Body Scan

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

7. Closure

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

8. Reevaluation

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

Is EMDR Right for You?

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

Some of these tools include:

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

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

  • EMDR Therapy aids us to form healthier associations

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

  • EMDR Therapy provides a foundation to build upon

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

Talk with your provider to see if EMDR is right for you. With patience and consistency, EMDR Therapy can be the treatment plan to finally heal your wounds and end your daily struggle.


Roy Faget, MA, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate, is an EMDR-trained therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who works with clients to help heal traumatic memories. To schedule an appointment with Roy, contact him at (512) 270-4883, ext. 109, or request him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

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

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

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

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

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

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

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

Get Out of Bed

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

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

Handle One Thing at a Time

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

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

Remember the Basics

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

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

Take the Positive Approach

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

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

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

Be Incredibly Tactful

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

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

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

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

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

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