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man with navy sweater sitting next to woman in green turtleneck on couch. they are speaking to a couples counselor.

Individual Therapy or Couples Therapy: Where Should I Start?

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

This classic breakup line may seem like a cliché but it does reinforce the idea that the breakdown of relationships is caused by one person. It ignores the fact that relationships are collaborative efforts.

So when a relationship is on the brink of collapse, what does a person do? Seek individual therapy to work on their own struggles? Or do they bring in their partner for couples therapy to hash out differences and express concerns together?

In all honesty, both forms of therapy are beneficial to strengthening and maintaining a relationship – especially when integrated into a complete relationship-saving plan.

How Individual Therapy Can Help Your Relationship

Identity Loss and Confusion

Everyone changes because of the relationships they are in but sometimes these changes happen in a negative way. You may be worried that you are becoming someone else in order to appease your partner.

Individual therapy can help you address these changes and explore how you feel about them. It may be that you need to learn how to set boundaries or have your voice heard.

Being able to do this without your partner present helps alleviate the pressure of worrying about how they may feel or react to your concerns.

Past Trauma

Trauma can either be obvious or subtle depending on what you have experienced but both forms are equally powerful and can affect your relationship.

These experiences can be easily triggered when you are in a relationship, even if the relationship is healthy. In individual therapy, your therapist can focus on your past trauma in an environment that is safe and intimate.

Big Life Transitions

Life events such as getting married or having a baby are huge transitions, especially if they happen very quickly. 

The resulting stress can put a strain on the relationship. Seeking the support of a therapist through individual therapy can help you come to terms with these changes and strategize how to accommodate them in your life.

Gaining Clarity of a Situation Before Taking It To Your Partner

Most of the time, people are nervous to bring issues to their partners. They may feel that their perspective is unwarranted or they may be fearful of how their partner will react.

By discussing these issues in individual therapy, you can gain clarity of the situation and organize your thoughts so you can present them to your partner in a caring and constructive way.

How Couples Therapy Can Benefit Your Relationship

Improve Emotional Openness

Even the best relationships can fall apart if the couple cannot fully express themselves emotionally. Both partners need to be able to express their emotions as well as be receptive to their partner’s feelings.

When emotional openness is achieved in a relationship, emotional needs can be properly met. A therapist can help mediate emotional expression between partners in couples therapy.

Identify and Address Differences

Relationships involve a fascinating dynamic of similarities and differences. However, sometimes those differences can negatively impact the health of the relationship.

In couples therapy, you and your partner can learn how to accept each other’s differences by identifying deal-breakers and non-negotiables as well as clarifying beliefs and ideals as well as emotional and physical needs.

Help Partners Know Each Other

So many times in couples therapy I hear a patient say, “I feel like I don’t know him/her anymore.”

Just as I mentioned above, we often change when we are in relationships. While this can be difficult to accept in ourselves, it can be equally challenging to accept in our partners.

Couples therapy can help you identify your partner’s ideals as well as their quirks to get to know them better and address any deep-rooted issues you may have.

Address Future Issues

Being able to predict your partner’s reactions is important in preventing issues from occurring.

Couples therapy can help you solve conflicts before they even start by focusing on communication, comfort, and openness between you and your partner.

Integrating Individual Therapy Sessions Into Couples Therapy

Even though individual therapy and couples therapy can benefit your relationship in their own particular ways, you can also use these forms of these therapies integratively.

Before choosing one therapy over another, it’s important to get out of the “you need to work on yourself first” in order to save your relationship mindset. This creates an environment of blame and shifting that blame onto one person in the relationship, whether it’s you or your partner, is not helpful.

Individual therapy should be sought out to gain clarity and express honest feelings about your relationship to see why the relationship is struggling. It’s not about “fixing” you to save the relationship.

Alternatively, it’s also not helpful to assume that having your partner present during therapy sessions will impede your healing. There are issues and struggles brought into relationships that are bigger than the relationship itself.

Think about all of the situations I mentioned above where individual therapy would be beneficial: past trauma, identity loss, transitions, and gaining clarity. I recommend individual therapy for these challenges because it offers you the opportunity to express your feelings freely and without fear of judgment.

But does the healing of the relationship happen there? No. While it’s important to address these barriers individually, they must be explored in the context of the relationship as well.

Being able to explore how these struggles impact your relationship with your partner can help them gain more insight into what is really going on.

That’s why integrating individual therapy with couples therapy is the most effective way to maintain a healthy relationship.

Where Do I Start?

Each couple I’ve worked with is unique and requires flexible and individualized treatment plans.

It’s hard to say definitively that you should start with individual therapy or couples therapy – the starting point depends on you and your situation.

So why don’t we have a chat? Get in touch with me today to start your journey to healing your relationship!

 

man and woman wearing medical masks making a heart figure with their hands

Pandemic Stress Relief for Couples: Tips for Decreasing Stress and Increasing Communication

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships

2020 threw the entire world into a tailspin in emotional, physical, and mental ways. Many couples found themselves facing relationship issues seemingly out of the blue – or dealing with huge issues that didn’t seem so dire before.

The truth is, the pandemic put us in a unique situation where relationship dynamics were drastically altered.

Does that make COVID-19 a doomsayer for all relationships? Not at all!

If you find your relationship suffering because of COVID, it’s important to understand how the pandemic affected relationships as well as how you can decrease stress and increase communication with your partner.

How COVID-19 Affected Relationships

It Created Financial Hardships

Finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many people who lost jobs and revenues due to the closures caused by the virus.

Not only does a sudden lack of money cause tension between partners but differing views and values related to money can cause stress as well.

This can lead to couples arguing about money as well as hiding transactions from each other.

It Created a Demand for New Routines and Responsibilities

Working from home, homeschooling, job loss – these are all situations that can cause significant disruptions in daily routines and dramatically shift responsibilities from one partner to the other.

The working partner who lost their job may find themselves frustrated with their lack of work and increase in household responsibilities. Likewise, someone who suddenly begins working at home may feel overwhelmed by the constant presence of their partner. 

The changes in routine and responsibilities resulting from the pandemic can cause tension and strain in a relationship.

It Added More Stress to Pre-Existing Vulnerabilities in the Relationship

Successful relationships often rely on creating space between partners either by going to work or having individual hobbies. When couples find themselves holed up at home during COVID-19 lockdowns, the resulting lack of solitude can have a negative effect on the relationship.

Not only does can the diminished space between couples cause tension in a relationship but it can actually add more stress to pre-existing vulnerabilities.

Those little quirks or annoyances that were once easy to overlook when there were moments of escape are now at the forefront and can cause added strain to couples.

How to Decrease Stress in Your Relationship

Couple is upset and irritated after quarreling.

The end of the pandemic may be visible on the horizon but the resulting effects it had on relationships could be everlasting if not addressed.

COVID-19 was a rough go and our natural responses to it stripped away many of our regular coping mechanisms. And it also brought to light activities that we didn’t even know we relied on to reduce stress such as going to the movies, going to work, and socializing with friends and family.

Because our old sense of “normal” was unceremoniously thrown out the window, it’s important to give yourself and your partner some grace. These changes were traumatic to some degree and we need to allow ourselves some time to heal.

Whether or not any relationship issues arose during the pandemic, now is not the time to make huge relationship decisions like getting a divorce. Instead, give each other a break and see if things get back on track.

Remember that the pandemic aggravated those little irritations that were easy to brush aside when you weren’t stuck at home with your partner. It’s important to relax and ease up on things that are actually subjective, such as how your partner folds the laundry.

By doing so, you’ll put yourself in a position to better appreciate the differences between you and your partner instead of letting them divide you. You may even begin to recognize and find gratitude in the things your partner does that you used to overlook.

How to Increase Communication With Your Partner

The key to maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner is to develop good communication skills. Once you have reduced the stress in your relationship, follow these tips to improve those skills:

Learn How to Actively Listen

There is a vast difference between hearing someone and actually listening to them. The first step in healthy communication is to learn how to actively listen.

Active listening involves responses and body language that assures your partner that you are listening and registering what they are saying.

A good first step to active listening is to put down your phone while talking with your partner. Maintaining eye contact and giving verbal confirmation that you are listening also work to demonstrate active listening.

Don’t Expect Your Partner to Read Your Mind

Another term for this phenomenon is “passive-aggressive” which occurs when one partner expresses negative feelings instead of openly expressing them. 

For example, one partner may give the other the cold shoulder until they figure out what is wrong with them.

Holding back your feelings is not helpful in creating an environment of healthy communication. Don’t wait for your partner to figure out what’s wrong – tell them in a calm and constructive manner.

Make Time to Talk

When you are placed in a situation in which you are sharing more space with your partner than you are used to, you may fall into the habit of only talking about things that “matter” such as spending money and household responsibilities.

While these conversations are important to have, they shouldn’t dominate the way you communicate with your partner all day. You need to reserve space in your conversations to discuss your feelings, your wants, and your needs.

You also need to make time to talk about the mundane things such as hobbies and interests that you each have. This will help you maintain a sense of personal connection.

Pandemic Stress Relief for Couples

The pandemic may have had a detrimental effect on your relationship but that doesn’t mean this is the end of the road.

If you find yourself unable to dissipate the stress in your relationship, it may be time to seek the support of couples therapy.

Let’s have a chat and see how couples therapy can strengthen your relationship and help you and your partner overcome the hurdles COVID-19 has thrown in your path!

How to Choose the Right Therapist

By | Blog

Having a hard time choosing the right therapist? Not sure where to start?

The first thing you should know is that therapists are people too – they each have their own unique personalities and approaches when it comes to helping individuals overcome their challenges and struggles.

So, as skilled and knowledgeable as a therapist may be, working with them will only be effective if you feel a connection.

When you don’t feel that connection, you are likely to wonder if the therapist is going to judge you and you’ll be hesitant to share your innermost thoughts and feelings.

If you don’t talk about these things, you’ll never get to the core of your issues and gain the information and support necessary to create change.

This relationship is actually referred to as “therapeutic alliance” – the framework in which you bond with a therapist as well as agree to the goals of therapy and the methods used to achieve these goals.

Overall, there needs to be good communication between you and your therapist and a mutual willingness to work together.

Consider Who You Would Work Best With

You, as an individual, are not expected to agree with the choices and lifestyles of every person you meet. This holds true for choosing a therapist as well.

It’s okay to consider factors such as gender, age and religion when it comes to finding the right therapist for you.

Perhaps you feel more comfortable talking to a man or someone closer to your age. If you have a religious affiliation that you feel clashes with the therapist’s religious affiliation, there’s nothing wrong with passing on that therapist.

Otherwise, perhaps you have no preference or aren’t sure what kind of individual you would be most comfortable talking with. 

In that case, some internet research can come in handy. While therapists typically don’t share their personal lives online, you can gather some pertinent information from the biographies – this can give you an idea of whether or not you can relate to that therapist.

Also, pay attention to their areas of expertise and method of treatment. A child psychologist may not be particularly helpful when it comes to adult addiction. Likewise, you may not be comfortable with the way they carry out their therapy.

Look for Credentials, Education and Experience

Did you know that being a counselor doesn’t require an advanced degree? Or that a therapist can hold a Master’s degree in a number of different disciplines (not just psychology)?

Yet, both can offer valuable services to help struggling individuals overcome their challenges.

Therefore, it’s important not only to consider a therapist’s credentials but also additional education and overall experience.

Reviews and feedback are a great way to gauge whether or not a therapist’s approach is effective and backed by research, knowledge and experience.

Check out the therapist’s website and look into their completed courses or programs. A quick Google search will help you determine if they have been earned from reputable institutions.

Questions to Ask a Therapist

Woman seated on a couch talking to a therapist

Before you book your first appointment with a therapist, you should ask questions to further determine if you and the therapist will be a good match.

Here are some questions you should consider asking:

  • Are your services eligible for health coverage?
  • How many clients have you worked with that had similar circumstances to my own?
  • What are your strengths and limitations as a therapist?
  • What is your approach like?
  • How many sessions do you think this will take?
  • What does a typical session look like?

The answers you receive will give you a better idea if this is a therapist you are willing to meet with. If they are, go ahead and book your first appointment!

Accessing a Therapist Online

Online therapy has exploded in popularity which is great for those who would prefer to access their therapist virtually instead of in-person.

This also opens the door for more choices when it comes to therapists since you are not limited by seeking therapy solely in your area.

Virtual therapy encompasses not only online video but also written methods (email, text, chat, etc.) and even speaking on the phone.

One consideration you need to make when it comes to receiving therapy online is your privacy. You need to confirm that your sessions are conducted on a secure and encrypted platform.

Otherwise, online therapy is a great choice if you feel more comfortable communicating via the internet instead of trying to articulate your struggles and mental health issues face-to-face.

What if My Therapist Isn’t a Good Match for Me?

Again, therapists are people too and it’s perfectly okay for you not to feel comfortable or get along with the first one you meet.

Therapists are focused on helping people even if that means being supportive of a patient seeking another therapist. In fact, many therapists will make recommendations for colleagues who may be a better match for you!

If you’re not feeling supportive or comfortable during your therapy sessions, you are not going to experience any of the benefits therapy can offer.

However, if you have been working with your therapist for a while, don’t be afraid to mention that you are not feeling a connection. If there’s an issue that can be addressed and fixed, your therapist is going to want to make the efforts to ensure you continue to receive valuable therapy.

Ultimately, if you don’t feel comfortable bringing up your lack of connection with your therapist, you can always just indicate to them via email or their receptionist that you will not be continuining therapy.

Never feel bad about changing therapists! The most important thing is to make sure you work with someone that will help you get the most out of treatment.

Get the Help You Need!

Is the right therapist waiting for you at RyanAnswers? They very well could be!

Get on track to having your mental needs met by getting in touch with one of our trained psychotherapists today – we would love to meet with you and determine if our therapists and services a good fit for you.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Episode 5: Dr. Chris Friesen on Biohacking, Focus, and Mental Performance

By | Podcasts | No Comments

We’re back! For those who don’t know, I took a 6 month break to relocate across the country. I’ve interviewed some incredible guests since moving to the Toronto area, and one person I was fortunate enough to meet is Dr. Chris Friesen.

He works with Olympic athletes, pro athletes, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other high achievers to maximize their performance. Today, he shares the keys to success, and answers the questions you sent in last week.

In This Episode You’ll Learn About:

2:45 – Listener question: How does the brain’s dark energy effect sports performance?
3:20 – The secret to getting into “the zone”
5:00 – The keys to mental focus
7:10 – Learn which types of brain waves result in the best performance, and how you can measure them
9:45 – Listener question: How do you deal with adrenaline dumps and high pressure situations?
11:45 – Why being too calm is actually bad for performance (this one surprised me)
15:00 – How fighting your thoughts only makes them worse
17:25 – Biohacking your anxiety to de-stress
27:30 – Doctors were stumped… learn the simple biohack than can cure stomach problems
29:00 – Staying focused and being true to your values in the age of constant distraction
33:00 – The one major mental mistake that sabotages your ability to achieve

Listen to Episode 5: Dr. Chris Friesen on Biohacking, Focus, and Mental Performance
 

· Listen to it on iTunes

3 Easy, Free Ways to Instantly Improve Your Relationship

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 2 Comments

It’s been 7 years now. More than 1,000 people. And through it all, there has been a consistent pattern in all the couples I’ve seen.

The pattern is simple – three things that are easy, free, and have an instant impact on your relationship.

No more excuses! Take the advice in this post and I promise you’ll see immediate results.

 

1) Go To Bed Together

 

If you aren’t going to bed together, you’re missing out on one of the best ways to connect. I know sometimes people have different sleep schedules, and it can be frustrating for both of you. If you commit to doing this, your schedules sync up and it becomes second nature.

As a general rule, join your partner within 30 minutes of them going to bed. But what about couples that work opposite, or very different hours?

If you’re the one who stays up late, go to bed with your partner until they fall asleep. Bed is one of the few times you have privacy and the chance to be intimate (both sexually and emotionally) so it’s important not to skip out. On top of that, it can be hard to fall asleep before your partner joins you.

Falling asleep alone has this weird exaggerated mental effect. People who fall asleep alone tend to report feeling more alone and unsupported in the relationship, even if they aren’t. I’m not a neuroscientist, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re hard wired on some level to crave closeness at night, and to feel more isolated than usual if we don’t have it.

 

2) No Electronics In Bed!

 

Creeping around on your phone is a bedtime ritual for many people, and it’s absolutely horrible for your relationship. It totally defeats the purpose of going to bed together.

I get that for some people it’s a way to unwind, and that’s cool – just do it *before* bed. Scroll through your feed, catch up on sports, read forums, do whatever you want as long as it’s not in the bedroom. When you’re done, put your phone on silent and leave it under your pillow or on your bedside table (facedown).

This goes for TV as well. And if you aren’t sold on the relationship benefits, consider that your brain forms associations between things very easily. It won’t secrete as much melatonin (sleep chemical) if it doesn’t think you’re going to your sleeping spot.

You have to train your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep… and sex! But watching TV and creeping your phone are definitely not associations you want to build.

 

3) Spend At Least 1 Hour a Week Dating

 

The vast, vast majority (I’d say 90%+) of couples I see don’t even spend an hour a week together doing stuff.

You don’t need to be going out for fancy dinners, expensive outings, or extravagant locations, a simple picnic in the park is enough. The key here isn’t so much what you’re doing, but that you’re doing it together with no interruptions.

If you have kids, get a sitter. Turn your phones off. I don’t care if you use your phone for work or if you’re on call. If you can’t be away from your phone for an hour, you’re lying to yourself about how important you are and disrespecting your spouse at the same time. Period.

Ride bikes together. Get some gelato and go for a stroll downtown. See a fortune teller, even if you know it’s a bunch of BS. Halloween is coming up… grab a latte and go pick pumpkins together.

 

Have Your Own Tips?

 

Have your own date ideas? Tips that have helped out your relationship? I’d love to hear about them! Post a comment below the article, and subscribe to my weekly email for free dating and relationship tips!

Is Guilt Stopping You From Leaving Your Relationship?

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 4 Comments

Have you ever been fed up with someone, but felt like you couldn’t leave them?

When you finally get fed up, a voice pops in your head: What if me leaving is the motivation they need to change? What if they’re different for the next person?

You tell yourself things will change. But they don’t, and you get angry – angry at yourself for falling into the same pattern, angry at them for disappointing you, angry because you’re alone.

Maybe you can’t tell anyone, or maybe you’ve told people so many times they’re sick of listening. Either way, you’re alone in the desert with your ball and chain, and you don’t know what the hell to do.

 

The Bullshit-Free Oasis Beckons

 

If the above resonates with you, you might be in a relationship that doesn’t serve you. Contrary to what you’ve been told for your entire life, breaking up doesn’t mean your relationship failed.

Too often I see clients staying in relationships because of guilt, shame, and fear. You tell yourself things will improve, you just need to be a better partner. Be more patient. Be more understanding. Be more supportive.

What you’re really doing is taking more than half the responsibility for the relationship. As they contribute less, you contribute more. Emotionally, mentally, physically, you’re exhausted. But you won’t leave.

You won’t leave because the world has told you two really nasty things: leaving is failure, and failure is bad.

 

I Have Some Questions For You…

 

Would you stay in a job that wasn’t paying you because your parents would call you a bum if you quit?

Would you eat food that makes you sick for the sake of finishing your plate?

Would you keep seeing a personal trainer who overworks you and causes you injury?

No – because the purpose of a job is to pay you. The purpose of food is to nourish you. The purpose of a trainer is to help you become strong. You can make these decisions quickly, easily, and without guilt or shame because they’re so clear.

If you’re struggling with guilt, shame, and a sense of obligation, it’s because you don’t know the purpose of your relationship.

Here’s a broad definition to get you started:

The purpose of a relationship is to enrich your life and the life of your partner.

Let’s dive a little deeper and look at what that means to you.

 

Free Relationship Counselling, Right Here

 

I’ve never really tried to translate what I do in session into an article, but if you’re down, so am I.

There are so many ways a relationship can benefit you. Since this is a huge question, it’s helpful to break things down into categories. Here’s something to help you get started:

Maybe your relationship meets basic needs like food, shelter, and a place to live. Maybe you aren’t social or outgoing, and your partner involves you in a lifestyle you have trouble creating on your own. They might provide you with acceptance, and that’s something you’ve never had before. It could be they push you to achieve your dreams.

Figure out what your relationship used to give you, and what it gives you now. Think about what you want from your relationship, and compare the two.

If your two lists are really similar, your relationship is successful. If they aren’t, it’s time to take action.

 

If Your Relationship Isn’t Meeting Your Needs

 

Needs change. What you wanted at 25 and what you want at 40 are wildly different. We change radically throughout our lives, but no one ever teaches us how to stay in sync with another person going through the same process.

The first thing to do if your relationship isn’t meeting your needs is to talk about it.

But what if your partner isn’t receptive? What if they won’t talk to you? What if you try again and again, but they just shut you out?

Well…

If two people make a commitment and one person doesn’t honour it, should the other person continue to do so?

When you say it out loud, it’s hard to answer with a yes. But actions speak louder than words, and there are a LOT of people in one way relationships.

Your relationship is defined by the roles you play in it. How many hours per day are you a woman, a man, a husband, a wife? How many hours are you a mother or a father? A room mate? A caretaker? A therapist?

If your relationship isn’t meeting your needs, if you’re spending more time being room mates or care takers than lovers, if your partner isn’t willing to change, why would you be willing to stay?

 

Lining Up Your Ducks

 

OK, so you understand your relationship sucks and there’s little to no hope of change. It’s been months or even years, and your partner is unwilling to take action. You know the guilt and obligation you feel is a load of crap, but you still feel stuck.

Here’s why:

Remember that triangle picture above that listed all sorts of needs? Well, those needs form your stability as a person. Your brain will fight tooth and nail any decision that leads to instability, so revisit that list you made earlier.

To make leaving easier, you need to find new ways to meet your needs. Look at all the things you’re getting from your relationship, and figure out how you can meet those needs in a different way.

It’s also a great idea to have a counsellor in mind to help you through the break up, or even beforehand to talk through your problems.

 

Are You Tired Of Your Relationship? Struggling With Guilt Or Obligation?

 

Adult Attachment Styles in Relationships

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 2 Comments

She goes through my phone all the time, but when I go through hers suddenly I’m invading her privacy, being controlling, and acting paranoid.”

“It’s not my fault you do suspicious things. I don’t. If you didn’t flirt with other girls maybe I wouldn’t have to go through your phone all the time.”

Sound familiar?

This kind of exchange is something I hear all the time. It’s a perfect example of how adult attachment styles can cause conflict in relationships.

About 40% of adults have an attachment style that causes relationship problems. Why are some partners OK with you taking a vacation solo, while others are constantly suspicious? Why do some people want to argue, while others wall up? It has a lot to do with… you guessed it, attachment styles.

Your adult attachment style determines your relationship patterns. They shape how you act when you’re close, how you deal with conflict, and in a lot of ways, are the deciding factor in whether or not your relationship lasts.

 

The Basic Adult Attachment Styles in Relationships

 

Secure Attachment: If you have a secure adult attachment style, you have a positive view of yourself and other people. You don’t panic or freak out when your partner goes out. You feel a normal amount of worry if your partner is running late or doesn’t call, but you’re able to cope with those feelings. Dealing with anxiety, jealousy, insecurity, and other negative emotions aren’t overly difficult for you.

Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: Out of all the adult attachment styles I see in couples counselling, this one is the most prevalent. If you have an anxious attachment style, you feel insecure about your relationship, question your partner, and struggle to trust your partner. Even if your partner tries to provide reassurance, the feelings of insecurity and anxiety persist.

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment: If you claim you don’t need relationships, this might be you. You focus on your career, your hobbies, and love your independence. When someone gets too close to you, you feel like they’re interfering with your own interests and pull away. You like to wall up or walk away when conversations get too emotional. When things aren’t going well, you convince yourself you don’t care and create distance between you and your partner.

Fearful Avoidant Attachment: Imagine the source of your pleasure and your fear are the same person. You want to get closer, but if you get too close you might get burned. You’re really happy at times, but then you snap out of it for a second and remember that you have to be on guard. When your partner wants you, you feel suffocated. When your partner isn’t being affectionate, you panic and scramble to get reassurance.

 

How Do Adult Attachment Styles Develop?

 

Maybe a few of the points above seem familiar… but how did you become this way? And can you change? If so, how?

Anyone can change anything about themselves with enough knowledge and the right skills. It starts with understanding how your adult attachment style developed, and how it’s affecting your relationship.

Secure Attachment: Develops from healthy affection. You grew up with a relatively stable family and home environment. When you took time to do your own thing, your parents were there when you were done. For the most part, they encouraged and supported you.

Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: Develops from inconsistent affection. It’s likely that you grew up with addicted parents. This style develops when parents are sometimes affectionate, caring and supportive, but other times absent or abusive. Because you don’t know which you’re going to get, you constantly need to test the waters. Once you know things are OK, you feel relief… but it’s only temporary.

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment: Develops from a lack of affection. Your parents probably encouraged you to be independent, or didn’t pay attention to your needs. Maybe they were unable to care for your needs, and you became a little parent yourself. Because you developed an independent, self-sufficient role so early on in life, you became your own critic, your own guardian, your own care taker, and you don’t feel like you need anyone else.

Fearful Avoidant Attachment: Develops from abuse. You needed your parent to feed you, clothe you, and provide you with shelter, and they did. But they were also cruel, and abused you mentally, physically, emotionally, or all of the above. You walked the line – close enough to get the essentials, far enough away to avoid the abuse. You may tell yourself your parent(s) were good people, just bad parents. Many people I see with this style have a split view of their parents, loving the good side and hating the bad, and mimic that with their partner.

Special Note: Sometimes, I have clients with great childhoods who have negative adult attachment styles. As you’ll see in the next section, your style can change due to really good/really bad relationships. A secure person can become anxious or avoidant after an abusive relationship, for example. If you connect with unhealthy attachment styles in the first section, but not the explanations in the second section, chances are that’s why.

 

Change Your Attachment Style, Have Better Relationships

 

If you’ve ever heard that “people don’t change”, forget it – it’s bullshit. I wouldn’t have a job if that saying was true. I’ll talk you through the basic process in this section, but it’s no replacement for quality counselling and couples therapy.

The most important tool in your arsenal is a technique called cognitive reframing. If you don’t know what that is, make sure you read this.

Secure Attachment: Do your best to understand your partner. Openly discuss the patterns that are happening and work together to create new, healthy patterns. Follow the advice I give for each of the unhealthy styles and provide as much support, love, and patience as you can.

Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: Being suspicious and accusing your partner don’t help. In fact, the more often you accuse and frustrate an innocent person, the less reason they have to maintain innocence. Your brain has created a pattern to help you, but it’s doing the opposite. To break this pattern, you have to take a giant leap. As long as you keep snooping phone messages, flinging accusations, and interrogating them, the pattern will continue. Your brain will tell you that the things you’re doing are preventing cheating and other forms of emotional pain. The only way to break the cycle is to prove yourself wrong, so challenge yourself – the next time you want to accuse or interrogate, try not doing it and see what happens.

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment: Don’t take too much pride in being able to wall up or walk away. Walking away or shelling up when you’re angry isn’t a good thing (most of the time). Until you learn to continue talking to your partner even when you’re feeling strong emotions, issues will continue to come up again and again. As your casual relationship turns more serious it’s perfectly normal for you to spend less time doing the things you enjoy independently. Take a giant leap and rely on your partner for something once in a while. It feels really nice to have someone you can depend on, but you’ll never have that unless you give your partner a chance.

Fearful Avoidant Attachment: You have a lot of really deep work to do. Your parents are (supposed to be) the safest, most loving people in your life. When they abuse you, it sends a really nasty message about the world and people in general. You’ll have to make good use of the cognitive reframing technique I mentioned earlier, and question the conclusions you’ve made about the world. Ask yourself where your negative beliefs about relationships come from, and if those beliefs make sense.

The tough thing with this style is your beliefs are often so suppressed you won’t be able to access them. You might have to hack your brain a little bit and watch for emotional outbursts. Whenever you feel stronger emotions than make sense for a situation, something deep has been uncovered and is escaping through the situation you’re experiencing. Pay attention to those situations, and watch for common factors in your outbursts.

 

Here’s What To Do Next

 

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For all my psych nerds who want serious knowledge, here’s a really good in depth breakdown of attachment theory.

The Psychology of Cheating

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | One Comment

A while ago I wrote an article on the causes of cheating.

The main thing I wanted to get across was that, overwhelmingly, insecurity is the root cause of cheating.

Understandably, a couple of commenters disagreed with me. The source of our disagreement is something pretty simple.

In psychology, there are two causes of behaviour. There’s immediate causes (proximate) and “deeper causes” (ultimate).

 

The Two Causes of Behaviour

 

Say a ship sinks. You could say it went down because too much water got into the hull, and you’d be right. This is an immediate, or proximate cause.

You could also say it went down because the captain wasn’t paying attention, or the spotter was busy watching people make out, or whatever. You’d still be right. This would be the ultimate cause.

Insecurity is often an ultimate cause of cheating, but almost always a proximate cause.

I should’ve done a better job at explaining the whole proximate / ultimate thing in my last article. My bad.

A secure person with a good support system of friends and family, separate interests and activities, and a stable sense of self is more likely to leave a relationship than cheat.

If you have no where to go, no one to talk to, nothing you can do to clear your head and socialize with other people, and so on, leaving a relationship becomes waaaay more difficult.

This is what I was talking about when I said cheating is about unmet personal needs, not unmet relationship needs.

It’s pretty common for people to fulfil their personal needs with their relationship. The needs you’re responsible for fulfilling outside the relationship and the needs your relationship should fulfil become all mixed up.

 

It’s Like Jenga

 

Like most people, I’m a visual learner. This will make a lot more sense with a picture, so here’s a visual version of what your needs look like:

If you look at the yellow bar, you’ll see friendship, family, intimacy. That’s where relationship needs fit in.

Imagine each coloured bar is divided into separate blocks, like Jenga. Leaving a relationship that provides you with intimacy would be like pulling out one of the blocks. There’d be a hole, but the tower would remain standing.

If you have your personal needs fulfilled, this is exactly what would happen.

When you don’t have your personal needs fulfilled, the little “intimacy” block in the middle isn’t so little anymore. Suddenly your relationship now represents the entire yellow bar, maybe chunks of the orange bar, and some of the green bar too.

If you pull all that out, well… the whole thing crumbles. Even if a relationship isn’t “meeting your needs”, it’s still fulfilling a bunch of your personal needs. You can’t end the relationship without tearing yourself apart.

When I say insecurity and unmet personal needs are the cause of cheating, that’s what I’m talking about.

There might be deeper, ultimate causes, but eventually you’ll run into the proximate cause of not leaving the relationship to resolve things in a healthy way.

Hope that provides some more clarity. If you still disagree with me, though (d’oh…) I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

How to Stop the Constant Arguing

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Every couple fights. You know what’s crazy though?

On average, couples remain unhappy for a few years before they seek a therapist. YEARS.

It gets to the point where every conversation is an argument.

After the constant arguing phase is the quiet phase. Tired of arguing, both people give up on communication altogether.

Eventually, things get so bad that people *gasp* call a counsellor.

I’ve always found that funny. The average person thinks couples counselling is going to be so awful that they’d rather endure years of frustration and emotional pain.

We need to change the perception of counselling somehow, maybe if a bunch of us started doing sessions at the local bar instead of an office.

“If therapy doesn’t work, just get wasted!”

 

Problem Solve Like a Therapist

 

Sometimes relationships die a long, slow death.

It seems like nothing happened, but stuff went wrong… a whole lotta small stuff that went under the radar.

Chemistry seems to fade, intimacy isn’t there, arguing is almost constant, and you can’t figure out why.

Start by asking yourself some questions, and look for any common factors.

When do you argue? What do you argue about? Are there any people that seem to trigger arguing?

Where do you argue? This is a big one most people neglect.

When is the last time you had sex? What about a fun date? Uninterrupted time to just hang out?

Sometimes you can throw the psychology out and go back to basics. If you’re doing the basics but still have trouble getting through a conversation, it’s time to dig a bit deeper.

 

Put On Your Psychology Hat

 

Now the fun part. Do your best Sigmund Freud impression, but probably leave out the cocaine. Yes, the father of psychology was an addict (he found cocaine useful for talk therapy).

Chances are you’re already decent at understanding people and communicating. If you’re arguing lots, the problem you’re probably having is caused by your partner’s psychological defence system.

With awareness and a bit of skill, you can neutralize their defence and move the conversation forward.

 

How Does the Mind’s Defence Work?

 

You know the feeling when someone disproves your point but you still want to argue?

That’s the ego protecting your ass from the feeling of being wrong.

Sometimes, an issue triggers ego defenses and prevents conversation altogether. If you’re constantly arguing, this is exactly what’s happening.

 

Avoid the Triggers, Avoid the Argument

 

You don’t need to change your message to avoid triggers, it just has to be “packaged” so they aren’t scared, threatened, or hurt by what you’re saying.

This comes down to one thing.

Don’t Talk About Your Partner.

Don’t tell them what they did, what they need, what they need to change, or anything. Talk about you.

Most people fall into the trap of needing their perspective to be accepted before moving forward.

The truth is, both of your perspectives are “right”.

Stop obsessing over what they did. Start focusing on your experience.

BAD: You lied because you aren’t big enough to tell the truth. If you can’t admit that we have nothing to talk about.

GOOD: I felt hurt because XYZ happened again and you said it wouldn’t. When I feel hurt it makes me scared to open up to you. What makes you want to be dishonest with me?

You explain your experience without judging or insulting, you clearly communicate the problem, and you create a safe scenario for them to move the conversation forward.

Basically, it’s a simple formula for taking all the prickly bits out of the conversation. Once you do that, you’ve removed the biggest roadblock to resolving the root issues.

If you’re still having trouble and want free advice, subscribe here.

Update: Couples Counselling Practice Relocated to Hamilton

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No, I haven’t died. Although you’d be forgiven for thinking so after looking at the date on recent posts.

I have relocated my relationship and couples counselling practice from Edmonton, Alberta to Hamilton, Ontario. It was a thankfully uneventful 3,500 kilometre drive from one side of Canada to the other, aside from a speeding ticket and a few animal sightings.

Counselling is still available to Edmonton and area clients via phone and Skype, and occasional visits in person.

As of now, I’m available for housecalls in the Burlington, Hamilton, and Grimsby areas.

Posting schedule is also back to normal – articles on Tuesdays, podcasts on Wednesdays, and videos on Thursdays.