Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Affordable Relationship Counseling San Diego’

 At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr. Cunningham encourages couples to keep it fresh!  Generating creative ways to have fun together is one way to celebrate your commitment to one another. Such efforts help to make your relationship remain new and exciting. With Valentines Day just over a month away, why not surprise one another with dates that are outside the norm for several weekends in February? If you focus on doing your part to excite your partner with fun and adventure, you increase the chance that you will not need to seek couples counseling down the road. Here are a few ideas to create a unique experience that will result in a special relationship memory.

1. Create a five-star dining experience in your own backyard. Cover outdoor table with white linen. Decorate with a  floral centerpiece and candles. Play some background music…soft, sensual, romantic. Each of you prepare a surprise dish to accompany dinner or dessert. Be sure to take a picture or three for posterity!

2. Make your own conversation cards. Get a package of 3×5 index cards. Each partner generates 5 questions or topics that they are truly interested in learning more about the thinking of their partner. Print these questions or topics out on five cards each. Plan a “talk to one another” night. Make popcorn…or have a glass of wine. Take turns pulling a card. Talk. Practice active listening skills. Show your interest by asking more questions. Make eye contact. Body language and facial expressions should reflect engagement. Laugh. Kiss. Hug.  Be conscious of your own communication skills.

3. Write a poem together.

4. Agree to make your Valentines Day gifts to one another music. Make a romantic and personal collection to share with your partner. Play some of the music on a craft evening, when you make a collage together that in one way or another reflects your favorite memories throughout the history of your relationship.

5. Create couples‘ gratitude jars. Decorate each jar with a name tag and some ribbon. Spend one month looking to find things that you like about your partner or their behavior in a given moment. Write it out. Be specific. Fold  up each paper detailing and dating it. Put it in the jar. Try to find at least a couple of things each day. Open your jars on Valentine’s Day.

You both can enjoy generating more ideas that result in new and fun experiences. If you are interested in picking up some free relationship tips, browse Dr. Cunningham’s website: http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or if you think relationship counseling may be right for you at this point in your relationship, you can receive a complimentary telephone consultation by calling 619 9906203.

Read Full Post »

It is the time of year during which people love to reconnect and feel the warmth of bonds that span the test of time. At Affordable Relationship Counseling San Diego, Dr. Cunningham enjoys this seasonal opportunity to offer her heartfelt wishes that everyone who has received treatment at her  practice, past and present, have a happy and healthy holiday and new year. In that spirit (and to spread a bit of Christmas/Chanukah cheer), the following story (received from a dear neighbor and friend) is shared below:

SANTA CLAUS AND GRANDMA

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,” she jeered. “Even dummies know that!”

My grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of “world-famous” cinnamon buns. I knew they were world famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true. Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm.

Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. “No Santa Claus?” she snorted…”Ridiculous! Don’t believe it. That rumor has been going around for years and it makes me mad, plain mad! Now put on your coat, and let’s go.”

“Go? Go where, Grandma?” I asked. I hadn’t even finished my seond world-famous cinnamon bun. “Where” turned out to be Kerby’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everthing. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. “Take this money,” she said, “and buy something for someone who needs it, I’ll wait for you in the car.” Then she turned and walked out of Kerby’s.

I was only 8 years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother, but never shoppped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments, I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten dollar bill, wondering what to buy and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew; my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade two class. Bobby didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough–he didn’t have a coat!

I fingered the ten dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on red corduroy, one that had a hood. It looked real warm and he would like that. “Is this a Christmas present for someone?’ the lady behind the counter asked, as I laid my ten dollars down. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Bobby.” The nice lady smiled at me, put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, “To Bobby, From Santa Claus” on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. She then drove me over to Bobby’s house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa’s helpers. Grandma parked down the street from Bobby’s house and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge, “All right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.”

I took a deep breath, dashed for the front door, threw the presnt down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally, it did, and there stood Bobby. Fifty eight years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker’s bushes.

That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said–they were ridiculous. Santa was alive and well and we were on his team. I still have the Bible with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

May you always have LOVE to share, HEALTH to spare and FRIENDS who care…and may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!

Dr. Cunningham practices individual counseling and couples counseling for people who are looking to make better moves within their most important relationships. Stop by http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com and pick up some free counseling tips just for looking around the site. Or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation to determine whether seeking psychotherapy is right for you!  It takes courage to begin an inward journey–make the call today!

Read Full Post »

 
HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2012
On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am reminded that I am blessed to travel along part of the life path of so many sojourners. At Relationship Counseling San Diego, where I provide couples counseling and individual counseling, I am pleased to offer evening hours to accommodate couples and individuals whose work schedules do not permit attending psychotherapy during daytime hours.  My model of treatment is explained on my webpage: just go to http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and click on Model of Practice to learn more about how I work. Or call me at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.
A wonderful neighbor sent me these beautiful words tucked into a thoughtful Thanksgiving card:
Prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout.
 
So why is a car’s windshield so large and the rear view mirror so small? Because our past is not as important as our future. So look ahead and move on.
 
Friendship is like a book. It takes a few seconds to burn, but it takes years to write.
 
All things in life are temporary. If it’s going well, enjoy it. It won’t last long. It it’s going badly, don’t worry. That won’t last long either.
 
Old friends are gold! New friends are diamonds.! If you get a diamond, don’t forget the gold! Because to hold a diamond, you always need a base of gold!
 
Often when we hose hope and this is the end, God smiles from above and says, “Relax, sweetheart, it’s just a bend, not the end!”
 
When God solves your problems, you have faith in His abilities; when God doesn’t solve your problems, He has faith in your abilities.
 
A blind person asked St. ANthony, “Can there be anything worse than losing eyesight?” He replied, “Yes, losing your vision!”
 
When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them; sometimes when you are safe and happy, remember that someone has prayed for you.
 
Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.”
May the spirit of the season guide your heart throughout the year. Happy Thanksgiving From Affordable Relationship Counseling San Diego!
 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

In my practice in San Diego, I specialize in relationship counseling, couples counseling, and marriage counseling. I do counseling with straight, gay, lesbian and transgendered couples in my practice.

Presently, I see a couple with two grown children. They have remained stuck for years in the repetitiveness of a distancer-pursuer cycle. The more he puts up walls, goes into his “cave.” or just gets too busy to make time for them, the more she pursues him by asking to “talk,” and even getting critical and blaming, just to get some reaction-any reaction- out of him. Both partners appear for treatment with a resigned look on their faces and seem to be frustrated and hopeless about their relationship. This cycle has gone on for years, and no matter how many times the woman complains about their lack of connection or no matter how many times the man pleads with his wife to stop nagging and just let him be, the battle continues. Sometimes the battle takes place underground-for example, in his resentment, he knows that it will make his wife angry whenever he is late. So he’s habitually late. His wife knows that it will make him mad if she buys too many new shoes at Nordstrom, so she splurges on multiple pairs of Jimmy Choo’s. Other times, the batttle takes place above ground, and they just go over and over what is stopping them from moving forward until one of them tires of the blaming behavior and withdraws. And so it goes.

When this couple finally appears in my office, early in the assessment phase of treatment, I assign them each two books : The 8 Concepts of Bowen Theory and Extraordinary Relationships, both by Roberta Gilbert, M.D. I explain a bit about my model of practice. I emphasize that when two people are anxious, it is common to blame the other for all the problems. Our brains are hardwired to do this. The work is to use that tiny part of our brain that has evolved above other forms of life and, on a good day, allows us to think about our thinking. Reading the books is an example of using that cognitive capacity to calm down the emotional while at the same time learning a new kind of causality about relationship functioning. Blaming behaviors reflect a linear causality. My model looks at problems from the perspective of a circular causality. This means no one is blame! Instead, problems are co-created, or tri-created and,in some cases, may be rooted in each partner’s multigenerational story as well as unfinished personal business from past relationships that ended poorly.

In order to find out context (with the idea that nothing ever happens in a vacuum anyway), in the second and third sessions, I take a family diagram of three or four generations. I look for patterns of strength as well as  problematic patterns that may repeat over generations. I look at levels of functioning and variation in each generations’s sibling group. I look at patterns of closeness and distance. Some partners come from families who are emotionally expressive and, in the extreme, “into each other’s business.” Oftentimes, the other partner comes from a family that is the polar opposite: family members are distant and isolated from one another, emotionally, and, at times, this can be reflected in family members being flung all over the globe or just not communicative despite living in the same town. I look for levels of functioning academically and professionally. I look for how well members can “hold” intimacy over the long haul through each members’ number of marriages. I look for patterns of loyalty and infidelity. I like to think of this effort as being akin to climbing to the top of the bleachers to see the football game rather than sitting on the fifty yardline. Past is, indeed, prologue.

The assumptions I hold are myriad. Four key assumptions involve the following: 1.) We are all more alike than we are different; 2.) we are interconnected; 3.) the human being has a need for both connection and separateness; and 4.) functioning is reciprocal (for example, the more one overfunctions in relation to another, it may, in part, determine the level of underfunctioning in another).

An example of interconnectivity can be seen in emotional shock wave effects after the death of an important family member. It is common to watch dramatic changes among the relationships of those who were closest to the deceased family member. We all can think of someone, for example, who has been married for many years and one partner dies. Within a year, the other partner passes. It may reflect how profoundly connected the partners may have been, so that even their mortality is affected by the distance of death.

In my view, change is about going outside your comfort zone. It is in a frustrated partner’s comfort zone to blame and criticize the other person to justify why he/she is right. Paradoxically, this blaming effort merely serves to solidy the other partner’s opposing position. There is gridlock. The therapy effort is to work toward being able to visualize your own part in a problematic relationship dynamic. This involves getting some separateness from all the togetherness in order to see how you are impacting the dynamic yourself.

Learning and then applying family systems principles to one’s own life is an ongoing challenge and lifelong process. My model of therapy sets people on the road to making this shift in their thinking. To be able to transform ones thinking from individual (blame) to systemic (cocreated) is a continuing effort. Keeping one’s eye on oneself instead of on other can change a couple’s dynamic in a dramatic way.

Dr. Cunningham has her doctorate with a specialty in marriage and family therapy. She is licensed in the state of California as a marriage and family therapist. Dr. Cunningham has published an academic book chapter on her family systems treatment and has been an adjunct professor at a COAMFT accredited graduate school of marriage and family therapy. She has long life experience and has enjoyed seeing thousands of couples in her career. For more information about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 990-6203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

Read Full Post »

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, a licensed marriage and family therapist, practices couples counseling in the heart of San Diego. Dr. Cunningham believes that relationship counseling is not for the faint of heart–it takes courage to look within. Listed below are some of her favorite quotes on marriage and relationships.

“We just say the divorce didn’t work out.” Joe, who remarried his wife after they divorced.

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” Mignon McLaughlin

“I now think of marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season? That the moral, existential question we face when our marrige is in trouble.”  Bill Doherty

“Committing to staying calm is the first key to committing to staying married.” Hal Runkel, founder of the SCREAM FREE INSTITUTE

“The FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOLCALYPSE predict an ailing marrige: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt. The worst of these is Contempt.” John Gottman 

“Love is no assignment for cowards.” Ovid

Dr. Cunningham offers affordable rates and evening hours to accommodate working couples in the heart of San Diego. You are welcome to call her to receive a complimentary phone consultation at 619 9906203. Also, pick up some free tips just for stopping by to check out her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

Read Full Post »

After years of seeing distressed couples as a licensed marriage and family therapist in my office in San Diego, I have learned that love can be messy. Relationship counseling offers couples a counseling opportunity to take on the work of deepening their love in the face of current challenges they are facing.

Judith Viorst got it right when she said, “One advantage of marriage, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with him, or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you maybe fall in love again.” Couples who come into marriage  expecting it to be easy are deluding themselves. The good news is that it is in the triumphs over challenges that love can deepen.

It is a “given” that infatuation has a limited shelf life. There is something a bit delusional that drives the euphoria of infatuation. A physical attraction combined with one’s wish to find a companion with whom he/she has a lot in common drives the “urge to merge.” Over time, as warts begin to appear, all the hopes and dreams one pins on a person in one’s wish for a “perfect union” may become shattered. The people who once reflected one another in such a flattering way may begin to find fault or seem less exited. Now, instead of euphoria, one or both become reactive, as they stand by watching another dream crumble. Once again, Judith Viorst shows remarkable insight when she says, “Many of us are done with adolescence before we are done with adolescent love.”Many people seek counseling trying to re-establish that blind euporia that comes from infatuation.

The deeper, more mature love that poets have written about for centuries is borne of hard work and effort. In the case of love, effort means having the capacity to see your part when there are problems and being a proactive rather than a reactive partner. Realistic expectations and the ability to see one’s part in a difficult relational challenge remain part of what defines the successful couple. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of marriage and family therapy practice, visit her website at http://www.cuuninghamtherapy.comor call 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation.

Read Full Post »

Dr. Cunningham often hears couples come to marriage counseling and relationship counseling with issues related to anger. Each partner often begins couples counseling with a wish for the therapist to “fix” the other.  Counseling aims to help each partner increase their capacity to visualize their own part in the dance. This increased self-responsility to at once be true to expressing your feelings to your intimate other and, still, to decrease blaming him/her is an overarching goal of most psychotherapy within my model, no matter what the presenting problems.

In his book entitled TO A DANCING GOD: NOTES OF A SPIRITUAL TRAVELER, Sam Keen has a dialogue with anger (pp. 114-119).  Anger says, “If you doubt that I am the companion of love, remember the ecstasy of the reconciliation that comes after fighting. After a good expression of clean anger, lovers have established the integrity of their separateness, and they may come together without fearing that either will be eradicated by the act of love. If you can’t fight, you can’t love.”

Interestingly, this quote from Keen has been backed up by specific research in the field. John Gottman’s research disspelled a prevalent myth about marriage. He found that fighting is not predictive of divorce. If couples are engaged with one another and learn principles of “fair” fighting, learning more effective ways to resolve conflict can, in fact, lead the way to deepening relational growth. Notably, important work by John Gottman identified lethal forms of communication between partners that were predictive of divorce and he called them the four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (stonewalling, criticism, contempt, and defensiveness). He found that these communication patterns in relationships were dangerous to holding relationships on a course of stability and longevity.

Thus, Keen’s quote is backed up by Gottman’s empirical findings.  Anger that is not expressed or held back may be classified as a kind of stonewalling. So-called happy couples may be ignoring or hiding the anger that exists within and between them. Marital partners who are more able to express anger in a timely, reflective, and respectful manner, especially with a Gottman technique that he referrs to as “soft startups,”  may be more adept at repair attempts and thus are more likely to stay together in a more fulfilling way.

Anger has to be a respected member of the partnership. If not, the couple may not be genuine with themselves or with each other. Furthermore, anger unrecognized or in disguise may be more dangerous than when it is out in the open and dischargeable. Hidden anger can lead to sudden disruptions, including failure in the marriage, a damaged sex life, domestic violence, and anxious child-rearing that may even lead to child abuse. When unconscious and unexpressed anger festers, it grows and becomes regressively more primitive.

If one considers the tasks of loving from the perspective of  Bowen Family Systems Theory, lovers must also be able to establish the integrity of their separateness if they are to remain connected as effective marital partners. If partners are fused too tightly, they will not be able to come together without fearing eradication by the other. Bowen would wholeheartedly agree with Keen that lovers who can cleanly express their anger are likely to be more engaged lovers. Lovers must have a bottom line and be differentiated enough to not “cave in” or accommodate to another just because they fear losing the relationship if they do not give in. Those who can make a move for “self” are also able to freely choose to make a move for “other” instead of just going along, with resentment following closely behind. They are able to be at choice about when they wish to be separate and when they wish to be connected while, at the same, they have a greater capacity to respect a differing need for closeness and/or distance at various times in their partner.

Makeup sex often occurs without a clear resolution to existing problems. It occurs because the couple just gets tired of fighting and feeling all the  negative energy and want to restore the illusion that they are really doing ok without necessarily doing the work to get there. In my view, an accurate description of problems brought to therapy always addresses the reciprocity between a couple and one’s ability to identify or visualize one’s own part in a dynamic. The “automatic” impulse is to focus on what is wrong with other instead of working to see what one’s own part may be and then moving toward changing it. Part of the work in “fair” fighting, from my perspective, then,  is the capacity to “step up” and see what you can do to shift the unhelpful dynamic that led to the fight. Makeup sex can feel goodin the moment, but may be a mere escape from taking responsibility on your end to make things better in the longterm. Makeup sex that does not include each partner’s effort to change can feel euphoric, but without the promise of future increased connectedness. Some people have compared the feeling to getting high on cocaine.

The more you love, the more susceptible you are to being hurt. When a person is hurt, the natural response is anger in some form or other. While anger is a painful emotion, it also brings wakefulness, alertness, and, if it does not burn out of control, can even lead to clearer thinking and action about one’s own functioning in relation to important others. Anger is an emotion creeping into many of our expressions. Problems are tackled, obstacles are attacked, roadblocks are smashed, fears are conquered, and skills are mastered. I believe that it is not enough to be angry about some things.  If you can be aware of your anger, express it with an eye to including in your expression what you have done to trigger such anger-provoking behavior in another, and fight fairly, then you will discover that you can love better and not be in a state of chronic festering resentment Anger needs to be expressed and recognized as an integral part of life and living. At one time or another, it  is part of being transparent to a significant other. Being emotionally “naked” with another is difficult;  the process of this effort describes the challenges in the journey toward increasing transparency. As David Schnarch noted in his book entitled PASSIONATE MARRIAGE, this capacity to increase transparency can lead to what he refers to as ” wall socket sex.”  Certainly, the expression of anger in a nonblaming manner with an eye to what one has done to trigger the other to behave in ways that inspire anger is a helpful, systemic approach to conflict resolution. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: