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Posts Tagged ‘couples therapy’

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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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.

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As a licensed marriage and family therapist in the heart of San Diego, Dr. Barbara Cunningham enjoys a busy and interesting private practice. Research has shown that couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship wait an average of 6 years before seeking marriage counseling. The sooner a couple seeks help, the better the prognosis to return the couple to a state of harmony and mutual fulfillment and perhaps even take the couple to an even better place than they may have been before presenting problems emerged. Listed below are some quick tips to consider when choosing a couples therapist:

1. Is the graduate training of the potential counselor in psychology, in social work, or in marriage and family therapy? In contrast to many other training programs in therapy and counseling, marriage and family therapists are specially trained to see all problems in the context of relationships. It is a way of seeing how the problem may be embedded in other stories of attachment in each partner’s family system and in their current story. Looking at problems through the lens of the marriage and family therapist is akin to seeing a football game at the top of the bleachers instead of on the 50 yard line. It is a broader picture of what is really going on with the couple.

2. If the potential candidate trained as a marriage and family therapist, did they attend a COAMFT accredited graduate program?

3. Is the potential therapist trained at the masters or doctoral level in marriage and family therapy? Is the candidate a clinical intern who is collecting hours toward licensure or is the candidate already a licensed marriage and family therapist?

4. Does the potential therapist have experience being in therapy themselves? It has often been said that you cannot take a client farther than you have travelled yourself. Therapy is a kind of journey that allows you to go to emotional places that you may never have been before. This takes courage. You want a therapist who, from experience, has compassion for what you are up against in your efforts to get maxium gain from the therapy experience.

5. How long has the candidate been in practice?  Do they specialize in seeing certain relationship problems? Ages? Do they have a “niche?” Special expertise?

Even after you’ve selected a relationship therapist and had a few sessions, I suggest that you evaluate the therapy you are receiving. Here are a few areas to keep your eye on:

  • Skilled marriage counselors will not just sit there passively or nod their head “empathically” while you and your partner spend most of the session arguing just like you do at home; they will interrupt your unproductive fights to offer guidelines and teach new relationship principles that will help you manage yourself in the challenging context of intimacy.
  • Effective therapists will not get triangled into your issues by choosing a side with whom to align themselves. They will never view one partner as the main cause of the marital problems; they will try to help you and your partner each be able to visualize your own part in the co-determined issues.  When partners are most anxious, it is human nature to try to “blame” and point fingers. Good therapy work helps each partner manage themselves in a way to increase their respective capacity to own their own part and take responsibility for their own improvement rather than trying to “fix” their partner.
  • An ethical psychotherapist will never directly tell you to stay married or get divorced; in fact, giving such direct advice is specifically addressed as not ethical in the code of ethics of most professional associations.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s systemic model of practice, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.comor call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA, Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers a resiliency or strength-based approach to counseling, whether she is treating individuals, couples, and marital partners. She views challenges as a natural and an expected part of what it means to live a life. When we expect life to be nothing but rainbows, smooth seas, and laughter, we set ourselves up for bitter disappointment. Life is a fabric, a woven tapestry of good with bad, difficult with easy, happy with sad, sickness and health. Having realistic expectations going in to life transitions, such as marriage, parenting, and career changes, is part of the ability to function well. Some people become so paralyzed by change, transitions, and challenges that they never move forward–they are frozen in whatever place they were emotionally before the onset of the change, transition, or challenge. Others merely “get through it.” And then there are those who seem to thrive and prosper as they sail from navigating stormy sea after stormy sea. Who are these thrivers and how did they get that way? Differences in the way one thinks about life and the way one lives in one’s relationships can make one’s life look very different. How we think about things affects how things come out in many cases.

So what about those people who thrive as opposed to merely surviving through their life challenges? Wolin and Wolin (1993) discuss such resilient people in their book entitled THE RESILIENT SELF: HOW SURVIVORS OF TROUBLED FAMILIES RISE ABOUT ADVERSITY. How is it that some people have the capacity to rebound from hardship in a way that they bounce FORWARD (as opposed to merely bouncing back)? This is the book to read if you are interested in resilience and a useful synthesis of research and clinical experiences on the subject. The book will help the reader abandon the notion that they are not captains of their own ship. After completing this book, the reader will appreciate that they can shape their life rather than being shaped by childhood experiences beyond their control. The Wolins call their approach the “Challenge Model” as opposed to the “Damage Model,” as used by movements such as Adult Children of Alcoholics. People, for example, who overcome childhood trauma may view their experiences as giving them a badge of courage, a kind of Survivor’s Pride.  Strategies are discussed, case examples are provided, and insights are offered as a result of conceptualizing cases from this Challenge Model perspective.

No one escapes life without scars. Rather than incapacite us, painful feelings can sharpen our sense of joy and gratitude.  How one can rise from adversity and rise like a phoenix out of the ashes is at the core of this book. Read it and be inspired!

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation. Dr. Cunningham specializes in couples counseling and marriage counseling. She also is expert at counseling individuals looking to make sense of their part in relationship challenges.

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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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What is it about  marriage that calls upon us to stretch and grow? It is the frustration and the problems that emerge that require of us new approaches and behaviors within ourselves. Instead, we often find ourselves trying to “fix” or to change the other guy. This will not work.  McLaughlin once said, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

Pain and frustration can be great teachers. If one bends into problems instead of turning away and making it about the other guy, one can get a lot more bang for one’s buck in terms of personal growth and emotional development.  Long lasting, satisfying marriages reflect two partners who have the emotional maturity to “stay with it,” even during the stormiest of times.

Every relationship has a dynamic, a vibe. It is always co-created. We are either in sinc with one another or in reaction to one another, depending on the day and/or context. If relationships are co-created, they can be compared to dances. If you change one step, you have the possibility of changing the dance. This notion of infinite choices in terms of how to respond is a hopeful idea. It means there is always something else that can be done to change it up.

To learn more about my model of marriage counseling, please visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.comor call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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Dr. Murray Bowen, pioneering figure in marriage and family therapy, presented the groundbreaking idea that there are two competing life forces, and the tension between these life forces is always at play in relationship systems. On one hand, human beings have a need to be connected to important others. On the other hand, they have the need to be a separate self. How to balance these reciprocal forces in a way that works for oneself while at the same time having the ability to respect a partner’s differing needs for connection and separateness is the stuff of good therapy….learn more by reading my model of practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.comand get some free tips just for stopping by.

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Couples counseling that is effective looks to identify the reciprocity in a couple’s sequences or cycles of behavior and then to empower the couple to interrupt this reciprocal functioning. Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Michael Kerr (1988), pioneers in the field of marriage and family therapy, frequently noticed that “[couples] functioned in reciprocal relation to one another….It was if one person gained or ‘borrowed’ strength in relationship to the other person having lost or given up strength. The functioning of one person, therefore, could not be adequately understood out of the context of the functioning of the people closely involved with him” (p. 7).*

Thus, the ability to think in opposites is helpful when one is working to shift a negative dynamic in a couple’s pattern of behavior. There are many examples of reciprocity in a couples relationship, some of which include overfunctioning/underfunctioning, pursuing/withdrawing; spending/saving;  or liberal parenting style/strict parenting style. In the case of overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity, for example, the overfunctioner is, in actuality, defining the underfunctioning of the other person and vice-versa. This is disempowerment at its best! It is usually the overfunctioning partner who is in more discomfort and, therefore, the therapist will work first with this person to decrease the overfunctioning. The underfunctioning partner has a “cushier,” more comfortable position and may not be as motivated toward change.  Can you think of any more examples of reciprocal or opposite positions in your own couples dynamic? The key is to remember that a couple may be exaggerating their “automatic” behavior in reaction to their partner’s mirror opposite “automatic” behavior. Thus, polarization is the outcome over time in the old adage “opposites attract.” While attraction to an “opposite” may be true initially, the very thing that may have once attracted begins to repel.  

The work is often to identify the partner who is in the most emotional pain as the person to begin to work with in decreasing their “go to” position and perhaps taking on the opposite behavior.  The person who is working to decrease his/her automatic functioning in response to his/her partner may be pressured to “change back” by the other partner in the early stages of efforts to change. The strength of a couples system to try to hold on to its equilibrium, even if the equilibrium is not useful, is fierce! The couples dynamic is stuck, and, even though not useful, may be difficult to change!  The therapist coaches the change partner to just “hold on” to the change and, eventually, the other partner may begin to respond by toning down their behavior in the opposite direction. This is the beginning of a true shift in a “stuck” dynamic. To learn more about reciprocity and couples counseling with Dr. Cunningham, call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. You may also visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

*Kerr, M.E. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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