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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA , licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, often sees clients who present with issues of loneliness around the holidays. It seems that people feel a heightened sense of loss around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Television, movies, magazines, and advertisments seem to emphasize pictures of happy families that are a stark contrast to what people wish they had in their own lives. Often times burned bridges and broken dreams come into bold relief at this time of the year and make it most difficult for people to get through the days of gift giving, Christmas carols, and holiday mirth. Allowing people a safe holding environment to process feelings of vulnerability may be a beginning point.  It takes courage to begin the therapy process. Talk therapy is a proven way to begin. Research has shown that isolation is not good for one’s overall health. If one is not connected, or feels isolated, one is at risk for myriad health problems. Human beings are a social species.  Adaptation to loss can, over time, bring increased integrity and deeper meaning to life. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s strength based model of practice, call 619 9906203 or visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com to get more information.

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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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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

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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.

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“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” Harriet Lerner

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego, CA, sees many couples who complain that chronic anger has eaten away at their relationship or marriage over time. What follows are some of  her thoughts on how negative feelings can cut into relational quality.

Anger is an emotion that can erode an individual’s quality of life and play havoc with the dynamic in one’s most important relationships. In my clinical practice, I see many couples who complain that anger has infected their relationship satisfaction. The roller coaster quality of living with someone who has trouble managing his/her anger can be devastating. At http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, Dr. Cunningham works on helping people learn new tools and apply new principles to their relationships that can help them lead calmer, more satisfying lives. 

Dr. Cunningham, for example, emphasizes that it is important to be clear about one’s bottom line. What will you do and what won’t you do for the other person? Consider your “yes-es” as carefully as you consider your “no’s.” If you accommodate and give in again and again, over time, resentment toward your partner may build. Then as normal day-to-day stresses of life accumulate, a person with anger management problems may explode and hurt those he or she loves deeply.

A person with anger management problems needs to learn that they can shape their world rather than being at the mercy of outside forces. They need to increase their sense that they can become the CEO of their own life instead of exerting energy upon trying to control others. If a person can become aware of triggers that make them say yes when they really want to say no (or conversely, make them say no when they really want to say yes), they will know where they stop and the other begins.

People who work on developing this type of “emotional muscle” will not be quite as governed by the responses of others. This simple yet difficult self-management skill can help curb resentment toward an important other. When one works on managing one’s own boundaries more carefully, it can help to control the risk of festering and growing resentment and anger. Such an effort can empower people to become long distance runners in the art of intimacy. Dr. Cunningham sees individuals and couples for relationship counseling on issues of all kinds. To learn more, visit her web site at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call for a complimentary phone consultation at 619 9906203.

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Relationship counseling
can be an avenue of personal growth in the service of improving the connection with your partner. In my model of couples counseling, partners become increasingly aware that being in an intimate relationship over the long haul calls upon both partners to self-regulate their  reactivity to one another at various times. It also requires that partners or spouses preserve their connection with the important other without sacrificing themselves: it necessitates that each partner has the capacity to hold onto their core values, principles, and non-negotiable bottom lines. This may mean that one may, at times, have to say difficult things despite risking disapproval. Similarly, if one hears difficult material from one’s partner, there is an opportunity to reinforce growth behavior in other by affirming the openness instead of clobbering one’s mate for being transparent just because what they had to say made us feel uncomfortable. Thus, it is in the context of relationship functioning that one can transcend self and move onto a path of personal growth. In his 1996  article entitled “Affect and the redefinition of intimacy” (In: Knowing, Feeling, Affect, Script and Psychotherapy, ed. D. Nathanson, New York: Norton, pp. 55-104), V. Kelly makes some important observations about relationships. What follows below is a direct quote of this material (and reflects my thinking on part of  what the the work should entail in relationship counseling):

“All close relationships require proximity that causes us to step on each other’s toes. If, for whatever reason, one does not say ‘ouch’ and communicate the distress experienced as a result of the other’s actions, a complex dilemma is created. The need to disguise the distress causes the inmost self to be hidden from the other. The distress, if unrelieved, eventually triggers anger and resentment that must also be hidden. This causes further withdrawal and hiding of the inmost self. The other, perhaps not even aware of the offense, experiences feeling of rejection triggered by the withdrawal, without information adequate to allow reestablishment of the intimate bond. Now hurt, this other may also resort to withdrawal, thus setting in motion a recursive loop of rejection and hurt” [pp. 87-88].

Understanding that the withholding of important emotions can be just as damaging to a relationship as perpetual nagging about intense emotions is only part of what one has to “get” in therapy. It is the co-determined nature of this dance that is also important. How often are our responses simply reactivity in response to our partner and how often are our responses truly reflective? This ability to know the difference between reactivity and reflectivity is part of  the art of living in relationships in a fulfilling way. On one hand, to be able to identify within ourselves when we are being reactive and when we are being reflective takes skill and sometimes patience (sometimes we just have to “buy time” and calm down before taking any action or saying something about a sensitive subject). Knowing how to stay connected to one’s partner while still preserving some separateness takes effort, emotional ambition, and continued practice. It is important to appreciate that the expression of one’s emotions is primarily relational. At Affordable Relationship Counseling, work is focused upon helping each partner identify and then modify their part in the relational dance to increase mutual satisfaction. Such an effort often results in personal growth as a result of learning new principles to address challenges one may have in remaining in a relationship.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of marriage counseling, couples counseling and individual counseling, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation .

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At her Affordable Relationship Counseling practice in Mission Valley, San Diego’s Dr. Barbara Cunningham encourages couples and spouses to make time for a weekly date night. Below are some ideas for romantic date nights in San Diego:

Go to La Shores and walk around. Build a bonfire. View the sunset. Or take a bike and then have a picnic on the grass.

Watch the fireworks from Sea World–enjoy an awesome evening under the stars after a glass of wine at sunset on Mission Bay.

Take a sunset or winetasting cruise through the waters of Coronado Island. Cruising through the water in a gondola–can you think of anything more romantic?

Take a horse drawn carriage ride through Balboa Park or ride along the coast in your Cinderella carriage.

Go to a drive-in movie (South Bay Drive-In Theatre, 2170 Coronado Ave, San Diego, CA 92154)

Have dinner and hear live music at Anthropology (1337 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101)–very intimate setting!

Take a blanket, a picnic, and people watch in Balboa Park after choosing one of many museums to explore. Then go to Screen on the Green (1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101)

Date nights that occur weekly build the connection between you. Do not let other things knock this important time off the calendar. Find a good babysitter. Make your time together each week sacred. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s model of practice, visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation.

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Random House Webster’s Dictionary
defines “defensiveness” as “sensitive to the act of criticism.” In his book entitledWhat Predicts Divorce?” John Gottman describes four types of communication that he labels the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse. According to him, these styles of communication are not helpful and can be predictive of divorce. One of the four horsemen is defensiveness. When a partner is defensive, he or she may also saying, “I am more interested in protecting myself than caring about what you are thinking or feeling in the context of this problematic situation.”  Things can proceed downhill from there between the sparring partners.

In order to avoid provoking defensiveness in your partner, you may want to try some new self-management strategies:

1. Avoid blaming or criticizing your partner. The more your partner hears judgment and criticalness, the more he or she will place their energy into a counterattack or self-defense.

2. Try to assume a more neutral posture. Ask questions to gather information rather than to accuse. Your goal is to understand more accurately and objectively what the other person really means or believes to be the case. Remember that to make assumptions is to pose as if you have an ability to mind read (no one does!).

3. Verify what you think you heard in a tentative way that reflects your genuine effort to “get it right.” If you notice your partner’s body language, for example, conflicts with their words, notice it and ask about it. Do not let your own voice tone or body language conflict with your verbal request to understand where your partner is coming from.

4. Avoid using hyperbole-for example, do not use words such as “never” or “always.” Such “all or nothing” language serves to provoke defensiveness instead of promoting understanding. Try to stick to facts. Instead of saying, “You never want to spend time with just the two of us, ” say, “The last four times I initiated an activity for just the two of us, you said you didn’t want to do it.”

5. Listen to the “meta-content” or the message underneath the defensive or hostile statements. For example, if your partner says, “Back off! I am doing all that I can,” he may be feeling unappreciated or needing acknowledgement for his sincere efforts. When we work toward an understanding of a person’s underlying emotions and needs, it is much easier to demonstrate respect for what the other person is up against or what our own part has been in the context of problems in the relationship.

Trying to change how we communicate in our marriage or in our relationship can lead to a more harmonious union that supports the growth of one another as a result of resolving impasses. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

Dr. Cunningham practices marriage counseling and relationship counseling in the heart of Mission Valley. She offers complimentary telephone consultations at 619 9906203. It takes courage to embark upon a journey of individual counseling or couples counseling. Make a move to begin such a  journey today!

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One of my clients complains that it is almost predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariably start a fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems contradictory that problems would develop right after good times. Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?

I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going after her partner for “more.” He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a further move “toward” or the other partner makes a further move “away.” In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being “left,” of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, “Many of our problems…occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.”

There is hope for couples who get “stuck” in this unhelpful sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relationship dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between sessions. Please visit me at my website to learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go to http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you to see if it makes sense to book an initial appointment to begin a counseling experience!

 

 

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“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Emilie Buchwald

“Physical infidielity is the signal, the notice given, that all the [other] infidelities are undermined.” Katherine Ann Porter

“Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant.” Maya Angelou

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

“Passion might arise unbidden, but love is a discipline.” Julia Alvarez

“A great marriage is not so much about finding the right person as about being the right person.” Marabel Morgan

“Underground issues from one relationship or context invariably fuel fires in another.” Harriet Lerner

“Character-the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s life-is the source from which self-respect springs.” Joan Didion

“Blaming mother is just a way to cling to her still.” Nancy Friday

“Happiness is a goal, not a byproduct.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Dr. Cunningham has a private practice in the heart of Mission Valley and offers evening appointments to accommodate working individuals and couples. To learn more about her model of practice, visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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