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Archive for October, 2012

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, specializes in relationship counseling for couples and individuals seeking relief from acute problems or for personal growth. She enjoys a busy couples counseling practice and offers working couples evening hours at her office in the heart of San Diego. Whether you are seeking marriage counseling, couples counseling, or individual psychotherapy, Dr. Cunningham has affordable rates and provides a safe environment to work on increasing relational health. Seeking help through counseling is a sign of courage and strength of character. It is not a sign of weakness to enlist the help of a professional in sorting out issues.

Dr. Cunningham encourages couples to continue working on increasing their emotional connection with one another. Even though each partner may think they “know” the other, over time, sometimes this perception stops couples from becoming more engaged. Taking your partner for granted makes a relationship stale. Becoming more curious about how your partner thinks about a myriad number of issues can be stimulating.

One “fun” way to accomplish this goal is to make time for weekly  “pillow talk” evenings. Take a stack of blank 3×5 cards and write a conversation starter in the form of a question on each card and place each completed card in a box. After the children have been put down for the night, or if you do not have children, after you get ready for bed, settle down with your box of 3×5 cards between you. Take turns choosing a card and each of you speak to the topic on the card. Talk, agree, disagree, laugh, and then laugh some more. Be respectful. Demonstrate active listening skills. Do not interrupt. Ask clarifying questions to show interest in hearing what your partner has to say.  See the list below for conversation starter suggestions:

If you knew you had only one week left to live, what would you do with the remaining time?

What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your life thus far? What do you hope to do that is even better?

Given the choice of anyone in the wold, alive or dead, what five people would you most like to invite to dinner? As your close friends?

Do you believe in free will or in predestination? Why?

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Can you name a challenge we faced in our relationship and describe how you were proud of how we handled it as a couple? Of how you handled yourself as an individual?

Talk about a point of pride in your own reaction to an outside challenge that you experienced this week. A regret?

How do you want people to remember you most after you are gone?

In what ways has knowing me influenced you to be a better person? How do you think that I have become a better person as a result of knowing you?

Do you believe that you have enough time? In what ways has your notion of time changed over the years?

Do we spend enough time together? If not, how could we improve our time management to make more time for one another?

Going back to earlier, important romantic relationships in your life, what did you learn about YOURSELF after time passed and you took another look at the breakup? What was YOUR part in the unraveling of that relationship?

As you can see, the list can go on and on. It is almost as much fun to come up with ideas for conversation starters as it is to actually converse about them.  Research has shown that couples who know more rather than less about one another have a more stable and fulfilling relationship. You can never stop getting to know someone better. Curiosity is a kind of aphrodisiac-showing interest in another person’s thoughts, feelings and emotions can be a turn-on!

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of relationship counseling, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 990-6203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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Relationship counseling offers couples an opportunity to address their challenges or to enrich an already harmonious union. In the heart of San Diego, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, offers expert relationship counseling at affordable prices. Evening hours are also offered Tuesdays through Thursdays to accommodate working couples.

Dr. Cunningham’s approach to couples counseling is strength-based. The overarching concept is that couples and individuals can bounce forward (instead of merely bouncing back),  actually increasing their level of functioning, not in spite of, but because of the adversity with which they have been faced. Whether faced with the challenges following an affair, conflicts over parenting style, money, chronic illness, or myriad other stressors, relationship counseling can help people move to a better place in their marriage or partnership.

The idea of “posttraumatic growth” was coined by Dr. Richard Tedeschi, coauthor of THE HANDBOOK OF POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH and a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  His research implies that people can actually transform in positive ways as the result of a severe trauma. Such growth can successfully inoculate against subsequent trauma, making people more able to adapt and grow.

Growth from trauma may be the result of increased pride as a result of emerging intact from trauma, not only for individuals, but for systems. In THE RESILIENT SELF by Steve and Sybil Wolin, the term “Survivor’s Pride” is used to illustrate the concept of an individual emerging stronger from a successful navigation of hardship.

George Vaillant, in AGING WELL, discusses the Grant Study, a longitudinal study on adult development spanning over 70 years. In the book, Vaillant is interested in placing emphasis upon and discussing people who are actually healthy instead of a search for pathology. It becomes clear in reading the results of the study that one is not necessarily doomed by one’s past, including coming from an intense family system full of trauma. In fact, individuals and families facing various types of adversity may come out of their troubles stronger and more resilient.

Indeed, it is in the actual struggle with life’s greatest challenges that people may change and evolve in a positive manner. David Schnarch, for example, views the challenges in intimate relationships as an interlocking crucible. The deepest life meaning may emerge from the successful struggle to overcome challenge as individuals and as a couple.

At Dr. Cunningham’s counseling practice, relationship therapy of all kinds is available at an affordable price. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of relationship counseling, visit http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and get some free tips just for stopping by or call 619 990-6203 for a complimentary consultation.

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Infidelity and Relationship Resource Books

“People change and forget to tell each other.” Lillian Hellman

At her office in San Diego, California, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, specializes in relationship counseling for individuals and for couples. Dr. Cunningham often treats people suffering from the sense of betrayal that results from infidelity. Listed below are some good reads to help people as they struggle to come to terms with this profoundly difficult relationship challenge.

“The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart” by Constance Ahrons
If you determine that your relationship is unsalvageable, this is a fine resource for making the best of a very sad choice. It is an especially important book if you have children.

“Tell Me No Lies: How to Face the Truth and Build a Loving Marriage” by Ellyn Bader and Peter T. Pearson
Written by two psychologists who specialize in marriages and relationships, the book focuses on how we inadvertently or deliberately lie to our partners to avoid conflict. The authors bring their own marriage to the text as well as sample couples who illustrate the choices couples make that result in strengthening or weakening relationships and intimacy.

“Straight talk About Betrayal: A Self-Help Guide for Couples” by Donna R. Bellafiore
This small book is a powerhouse of information about the stages of emotional responses that couples go through with any significant betrayal. The author provides the reader with simple, clear and powerful information and a guide for how to work their way out of the haze that a betrayal brings to a relationship. The reader is empowered with steps to help them maintain stability and how to determine if the partners want to recover and rebuild the relationship.

“My Husband’s Affair became the BEST thing that ever happened to me” by Anne Bercht
This book is written for the reader who is in the throes of a partner’s betrayal and needs encouragement to know she’s not crazy nor alone in her agony AND that she will survive the pain and devastation. The author is frank and open about her own odyssey through the betrayal and provides the reader with exacting details about how the awfulness of the discovery later became the opening for a new and better relationship with her husband.

“Around the House and in the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement” by Dominique Browning
A good book to read as you’re recovering from an infidelity alone or when you’re choosing a divorce. Browning provides hope that you will recover and rediscover yourself.

“Back from Betrayal: Saving a Marriage, A Family, A Life” by Suzy Farbman; Afterword by Burton Farbman
This book is written by a woman who discovered her husband’s infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. She does an excellent job of communicating her devastation and sense of disorientation. The book includes the details of her recovery from the hurt and her personal work to heal in therapy. A wonderful addition to the book is the afterword by her husband, who writes honestly and frankly about his infidelities, his reasoning and his reckoning with his choices, and their effects on his wife, himself, and their marriage. This is an excellent book to read once you have gotten past the initial shock of the discovery.

“If the Buddha Married: Creating Enduring Relationships on a Spiritual Path” by Charlotte Kasl
This book offers practical and sound guidance to remind the reader of what contributes to a strong, loving, and growing partnership. It’s a great primer on marriage.

“Letting Go of Anger: The 10 Most Common Anger Styles and What to Do About Them” by Ron Potter-Efron and Pat Potter-Efron
Both authors are family therapists and offer a simple and elegant description of the ways most of us express anger immaturely. The book also provides a clear description of what mature and responsible anger looks and sounds like. This is an excellent book that I recommend to many of my clients.

After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful” by Janis Abrahms Spring
Janis Spring is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping couples overcome infidelities. Her book is a salve for those who are suffering from the discovery of betrayal and is equally as profound for the unfaithful partner. She does a fine job of describing what each partner is going through. She also presents the reader with checklists and practical ways to negotiate rebuilding trust.

“Surviving Infidelity: Making Decisions, Recovering from Pain” by Rona Subotnik and Gloria Harris
This is a nuts-and-bolts approach to making the decision to stay or go. It offers a range of considerations and helps the reader with specific ways to deal with obsessive thoughts and many fears and feelings.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice in relationship counseling, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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Dr. Barbara Cunningham practices marriage and family therapy in San Diego, utilizing a family systems, strength-based approach when counseling couples and individuals. Notably, siblings are the first peer relationship that children experience. In some ways, the sibling relationship history may be a template upon which other very close peer relationships may be built throughout the life course, including the marital relationship. Sibling birth order may also be an important factor in looking at adults’ manner of “being” in their mature relationships with close others. 

In 2006, Dr. Cunningham completed her doctoral dissertation. It is entitled A Resiliency-Based, Bowen Family Systems Approach to Treating a Sibling Survivor of Homicide: A Case Study. One of the topics in her literature review included siblings. The history of one’s sibling relationships may, in fact, be relevant to one’s capacity to develop fulfilling intimate relationships as an adult. What follows is the research cited on siblings in Dr. Cunningham’s dissertation:

The Sibling Relationship

“The relationships in life that usually endure the longest are those between siblings (McGoldrick, Anderson, & Walsh, 1989).  Most people experience the death of parents a generation before they die, and their children live a generation longer.  Marital partners usually do not know one another until early adulthood.  Friendships that last from earliest childhood till the end of life are rare.  Thus, McGoldrick et al. noted that “our siblings share more of our lives genetically and contextually than anyone else” (p. 246).  In this sense, the sibling relationship is distinctive from all other human relationships.  Siblings have a shared personal and familial history, and this history includes experiences, values, and traditions.  Brothers and sisters are each other’s first playmates and confidants, even sharing 50% of their genetic composition (Wray, 2003).  Carter and McGoldrick (1999) pointed out that “the more time siblings spend with one another and the fewer siblings there are, the more intense their relationships are likely to be” (p. 154).

In a longitudinal study of successful aging among men from the Harvard classes of 1938-1944, the single best predictor of emotional health at age 65 was having had a close relationship with one’s sibling in college.  This was more predictive than childhood closeness to parents, emotional problems in childhood or parental divorce, and even more predictive than having had a successful marriage or career (Valliant, 1977).

Birth order has a significant role in later experiences with marital partners, colleagues, and friends (Toman, 1976).  Because siblings are an individual’s earliest peer relationship, he or she is probably most at ease in other relationships that reproduce familiar sibling patterns of birth order and gender (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999).  Although not always honored or acknowledged as leaders, firstborn sisters are often assigned the role of caretaker of disabled family members (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999).

Bank and Kahn (1997) interpreted the sibling bond from a psychoanalytic perspective, basing their conclusions on an in-depth study of 100 clinical case histories in which the sibling relationship was problematic.  They identified three conditions for the development of a strong sibling bond in childhood:  (a) high access between siblings, (b) the need for meaningful personal identity, and (c) insufficient parental influence. Processes of identification with the sibling constitute the essence of the sibling relationship.  According to Bank and Kahn, both close and distant sibling identification can lead to rigid relationships and clinical problems.

            Teti (1992) noted the remarkable changes that occur in the life of the first-born child with the birth of a sibling.  The older child must adapt to sharing parental attention with an infant.  Teti found that older siblings might display increased anxiety and aggression toward either the new baby or their parents.  Furthermore, Teti noted that older children frequently regress developmentally in areas such as toilet training.  There are individual differences in how children adjust to this change, however.  Two studies found that in families in which parents involved the older sibling in the care of the baby and discussed the baby’s needs and desires, siblings had particularly close relationships later (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982; Howe & Ross, 1990).  Crouter and McHale (1989) noted that siblings spend a great deal of time together in early childhood, and, in fact, spend more time together than do parents with their children.  In the early stages of the sibling relationship, the older sibling usually takes on a leadership role and teaches the younger sibling, while the younger sibling often imitates the older sibling.

            In middle childhood, sibling relationships tend to be more egalitarian than those in early childhood.  The younger sibling may become more cognitively sophisticated, allowing for a greater ability to communicate and negotiate with older siblings (Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; Vandell, Minnett, & Santrock, 1987).

            As siblings enter the adolescent phase of development, their relationships become more distant than in childhood.  Affection and hostility levels are lower in adolescence than in adulthood (Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; Stocker & Dunn, 1994).  Additionally, siblings spend less time together as adolescents than they did as children.  Supportive sibling relationships have been linked to decreased anxiety and greater maturity in young adolescents (East & Rook, 1992).

            Research on sibling relationships in childhood and adolescence has shown that children’s sociability is associated with sibling warmth, and emotionality is linked to conflict and rivalry in sibling relationships (Brody, Stoneman, & Burke, 1987; Stocker, Dunn, & Plomin, 1989).  Furthermore, the match between siblings’ temperaments is related to the quality of their relationship (Munn & Dunn, 1988).

            The research on sibling relationships for individuals during late adolescence, a period characterized by increasing independence and identity formation, has received scant attention (Tseung & Schott, 2004).  Tseung and Schott investigated late adolescents’ perceptions of the quality of their sibling relationships in a British sample of 165 participants, using the Sibling Relationship Inventory.  Significant correlations were found between sibling affection and the capacity to have close friendships.

            Stocker, Lanthier, and Furman (1997) offer one of the few studies on sibling relationships in early adulthood.  They found that such relationships, like those in childhood, varied in the areas of warmth, conflict, and rivalry.  In another observational study, it was noted that young adult siblings who felt close to one another had fewer power struggles, more positive affect, and lower heart rate activity than siblings who rated their relationships as distant (Shortt & Gottman, 1997).

            Recent research has found associations between the quality of the sibling relationship in young adulthood and affective-perspective taking.  Young adults who rated their sibling relationships as close had higher scores on measures of emotional and cognitive empathy than did those who rated their sibling relationships as distant (Shortt & Gottman, 1997).

            Scharf (2005) conducted a study with 116 emerging adults and adolescents.  The subjects completed questionnaires and were interviewed about their relationship with a sibling.  Emerging adults were found to spend less time and to be less involved in joint activities with their sibling than adolescents, but they reported being more involved in emotional exchanges with and feeling more warmth toward their siblings.  Narrative analyses of the questionnaires showed that emerging adults had a more mature perception of their relationship with their siblings.  Unlike in adolescence, the researchers found that the quality of emerging adults’ relationships with their siblings was less related to their relationship with their parents.

            Many theorists and researchers have discussed the associations between sibling relationships and parent-child relationships.  Dunn (1992) found that in families in which parent-child relationships are warm and supportive, high levels of affection also characterize sibling relationships.  Conflictual parent-child relationships are associated with sibling relationships fraught with rivalry and conflict.  In addition to associations between each sibling’s relationship with his or her parent, differences in parents’ behavior toward each sibling are related to the quality of sibling relationships.  Siblings have more positive relationships with one another when parents treat them similarly (Brody, Stoneman, & Burke, 1987).

            Associations between the quality of parents’ marital or extra-marital relationships and children’s’ sibling relationships have been documented in the literature (Brody, Stoneman, McCoy, & Forehand, 1992; Kerr & Bowen, 1988; MacKinnon, 1989; Stocker, Ahmed, & Stall, 1997).  Despite the positive links between marital conflict and hostile sibling relationships, some research suggests that siblings can act as supports for each other.  For example, Jenkins and Smith (1990) found that in families with high levels of marital conflict, children with close relationships with brothers and sisters had fewer adjustment difficulties than those with conflictual sibling relationships.

            One of the most consistent and striking findings about siblings is that they differ from one another on most measures of personality and psychopathology as much as any two people randomly selected from the population (Dunn & Plomin, 1990).  Why should sisters and brothers who grow up in the same family and share 50% of their genes be so different?  Researchers have discovered that even though they come from the same family, siblings experience different environments within that family.  Parents treat siblings differently, and these differences have been linked to differences in siblings’ outcomes (Dunn & Plomin, 1990).

Murray Bowen (1978) offered a way to understand family emotional processes that create sibling differences.  In a live-in family research project at the National Institute of Mental Health, he studied how it was that the same parents could raise one quite impaired child and another fairly normal child.  He theorized that the unit of treatment is the family system, not the individual.  He postulated that if parents do not work on difficulties they are having with each other in their marriage or relationship, then one or more children would be vulnerable to filling this breach in their relationship.  The child who is fortunate enough to avoid intense focus by one or more parents is freer to grow and develop.

According to M. E. Kerr:

The usual way that marital distance places one child in harm’s way is that the mother focuses less energy on her husband and turns to the child to gratify desires for a comfortable emotional connection.  In the process, the child becomes so important to her well being that he easily triggers her worries as well.  This mix of needs and fears cements a powerful connection.  The father invests much of his energy in work and is usually less entangled emotionally with the child.  However, he participates equally in the child focus by playing his part in marital distance and getting anxiously entangled in his wife’s relationship with the child.  (personal communication, October 29, 2005)

 

M. E. Kerr explained:

If one child fills the breach in the parents’ relationship, his sibling is relatively off the hook.  The parents expend their needs and fears on the overly involved child.  It enables them to be more relaxed and at their best with his sibling.  The sibling’s reality needs rather than their anxiety largely govern their interactions with him. Developing in a less emotional climate, the sibling tunes into social cues, but without being programmed to overreact to them.  (personal communication, October 30, 2005)

 

Kerr (personal communication, October 29, 2005) noted that functioning between an overly involved sibling and his brother or sister often become apparent during toddlerhood.  One child may be more easily bored and depend more completely on his or her mother for direction.  The freer sibling can entertain himself and manage himself more independently.  By the time the child reaches school age, the freer child is not as dependent on his teacher for approval and direction.  Peer relationships are freer and less of an issue for a child who is free of intense focus by one or more parents.

The overly focused upon child will be more prone to rebel or move into harm’s way during adolescence, according to Kerr (personal communication, October 29, 2005). His rebellious streak parallels his or her difficulty in being an individual while the freer adolescent sails through this life cycle stage more easily.  Kerr theorized:

The overly involved child may function fairly well until stumbling badly in trying to make the transition into adult life.  At whatever point problems surface, the parents intensify their focus on the child in an effort to fix him.  This further escalates the tension, particularly if the child does not respond.  (personal communication, October 28, 2005)

 

Kerr emphasized that

a parent being overly involved with a child is harmful because the ongoing emotionally intense interactions over the years of his development program the child’s well being and functioning to depend heavily on relationships….like a moth drawn to a bright light, he becomes preoccupied with [mother’s] attention, approval, expectations, and distress.  His mood and motivation become linked to how she and others view him.  Being ensnarled in the emotionality constrains the child’s instinctive urge to develop his individuality.  (personal communication, October 29, 2005)

In the sections above, the nature of the sibling relationship has been explored from individual, systemic, and lifespan perspectives. “

Relationship counseling may be an avenue toward encouraging personal growth in the context of marital or couples challenges. Relationship counseling may also be an avenue toward resolving chronic or acute issues between partners. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s marriage and family therapy counseling practice, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 990-6203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

 

 

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