A Peaceful Life’s Blog

Why Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

Why Relationship Advice Doesn't WorkWhy Relationship Advice Doesn’t Work

The danger behind being seduced by relationship advice, tips, and tricks.

Don’t you just wish that someone would tell you how to fix relationship problems? How many billions of dollars a year are spent in the self-help section, promising the solution to our most complicated issues? Unfortunately, there are real reasons why relationship advice doesn’t work, and why a good couples therapist would steer clear.

Most normal people assume that fixing relationship problems means first understanding what the problem is and where it came from, which should lead to a solution. How to fix it. Knowing what to do. Making a plan. Do This, Don’t Do That.

Humans Like Easy Answers

We are human, and our brains evolved to solve problems. From building fires to hunting, our survival has hinged on making the outside world better. This is called the Problem Solving Mind. It tries hard to help, the only way it knows how: Logic! Determination! Fix it!

The Problem Solving Mind isn’t great at solving problems that have to do with our emotions and our relationships. It wants to make us believe that it can help, but it actually causes more harm than good. The main job of the Problem Solving Mind is to keep you feeling like you are on the right track. You are going to solve this. This isn’t out of your control. You don’t have to be miserable.

All you need is some quick advice and you’ll be OK. But that’s not true. 

It’s Scary When We Have No Quick Fix Solutions to Relationship Problems

Relationships aren’t like machines that you can take apart and tweak here and there to fix. The only way to solve relationship problems is by working through them, not around them.

Relationships are hard. We don’t have control over how people act, how we react, and whether we could lose each other. The stakes are SO HIGH. We want to get it right, we don’t want to mess things up. We don’t want to have problems, hurt and heartache. No wonder we want quick answers! Who wouldn’t?

When the Problem Solving Mind asks for magic bullets, quick answers, easy tools and instructions on how exactly to fix something, therapists sometimes feel pressure to oblige. We want you to feel hopeful and effective! A good therapist is full of ways to help you, and that may include something you can do right now. But, a good therapist does not dole out relationship advice like french fries at the drive-through. Relationship advice doesn’t work. 

Magic Bullets: Solutions or Quick Tips for Relationships

Magic Bullets are a type of relationship advice that doesn’t work. It may work for a little while, but then they stop working and you are sometimes worse off. Let’s use the Five Love Languages as an example. While the actual ideas in the book aren’t bad, couples routinely come in feeling defeated that they have been doing Acts of Service or saying Words of Affirmation for three months, and for some reason, their partner still doesn’t feel loved enough. What’s the issue?

The tool gets sucked up into the problem itself. The tool starts to feel like it’s not working. It feels forced, it isn’t coming from your experience and you can’t keep it up.

People fall into a bartering system. “I will do what you need if you do what I need. You haven’t done what I need, so I’m not budging.”

Things feel better and different for a while, but the actual core issues aren’t resolved. There isn’t more trust. People don’t feel secure in the relationship.

It starts to feel like your partner is just doing those things because they have to, not because it comes from their spontaneous love and intuition on what would make you happy.

If your partner isn’t doing the thing at all, then it’s evidence that they are terrible.

You blame each other and feel hopeless. 

 

When things fall apart it confirms your original story about why things aren’t working.

“You don’t care about me.”

“You don’t even try.”

“We aren’t compatible.”

“You aren’t capable of sustaining change.”

“Nothing ever pleases you, it’s not enough.”

“You don’t know what you want, because I’m doing this perfectly and you still aren’t happy with us.”

The result? You are back at square one, only now you failed and you guys suck. You feel worse about the relationship.

What Would A Real Couples Therapist Do Instead?

You are trying to climb a mountain as a couple, to the top, where your relationship problems are conquered and you feel trust and security, and love. You are hiring the couples therapist to guide you. You want them to just tell you what to do.

A real guide is not going to stand in the parking lot and say:

Good luck on the way up. Let me tell you, it can get really windy. All you need to do is duck. I know you’ve never climbed this mountain, or any mountain, but if you just duck every time the wind blows, you should be prepared for any and all kinds of obstacles up there. Ice, hunger, low visibility. You’ll be fine. If it doesn’t work, you have yourselves and each other to blame, because that’s a sure-fire solution I’m telling you. But, I’m going to hang back here at the trail head and make sure I can see you through my binoculars! That’s what you pay me for. Good Luck!!

NOPE. You might leave the session feeling like you have a plan. But you will not make it to the top of that mountain.

A good couples therapist would say:

Let’s suit up. It gets really windy, so I’ll be guiding you and taking care of you both. Sometimes I’ll lead the way, and as we go over the terrain and the rock, and get knocked around by the wind, just focus on letting me know how you are doing. I can’t predict exactly what we’ll find, but I can promise you that I’ll help you through whatever we run into and you won’t fall to your death because I’m right there with the rope. As you climb, you’ll get stronger and more confident in your footing, and you’ll start finding your way with all that you’ve experienced and learned. By the time we get to the top, I’ll barely be helping. Until then, we have to meet every unique challenge together.

And then, they’d blaze the trail. Can you see the difference between Magic Bullets and real help? 

As I began writing this, I really just wanted to talk about why Magic Bullets don’t work, but it’s really a deeper thing. It’s about what really makes successful change (experiences) versus what we wish would make successful change (Book Learning). If you find that your Problem Solving Mind is mounting a pretty convincing argument for the easy solution, please do yourself a favor and at least read a good book that won’t set you up for failure: Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, or reach out for a free consultation to get an idea of what having someone climb the mountain with you would feel like.

What Couples Therapists Believe About Relationships

What Couples Therapists Believe
About Relationships
(or at least they should)

What couples therapist believeWhen your relationship isn’t going as it should be, it’s easy to rack your brain with all sorts of interpretations of what is going on, predictions about the future and what will happen, what needs to happen, etc. All of this can be very confusing, leading you to question the relationship itself.

There is a fundamental belief that every couples therapist should have about your relationship.

This is a belief that we share, and it is something that we try to help you cultivate. The belief is that you have a bond. It’s there. You are not fighting because you hate or don’t care about each other, no matter how infuriating each other’s behavior could be, or how distant you feel. If there were no bond, you wouldn’t be working so hard to get through to each other that there’s something threatening this bond.

“But wait, no one is working on this!”

“All we do is fight, how can you say that?”

“I feel ignored. There is no bond.”

This is something that can go against everything your mind says to you when you are fed up, exhausted, angry, sick of it, feeling hopeless, etc. Your bond may be buried under all the things that are going wrong. Your bond may be in danger of being broken if these things don’t get fixed. But, the bottom line is this: You wouldn’t be able to get to each other if there weren’t a bond. No one would get upset about anything. No one would shut down and freeze up in the face of an argument. No one would be bothered by a lack of closeness if there has been a growing distance.

A good couples therapist knows this, and will use this to help you revive your bond. Because it very well could die if it’s not attended to.

If you are having issues in your relationship and there is any notion that you both don’t like what’s going on, then there’s a bond there. You don’t have to wonder about that. You have to believe that it’s there and fight to save it. Don’t waste your energy analyzing whether your partner really loves you, really wants to be with you. That’s like sitting in a sinking ship and debating whether it would have gotten a hole if it were a good ship, without doing anything to fix the hole.

But, my partner had an affair, what do you think about that?

Bonds can be injured, and if your partner is saying to you that they are done and want to pursue a new relationship, you may be in trouble. However, the occurrence of an affair doesn’t mean that your relationship is meaningless and can’t be fixed. We’ve helped couples take a hard look at what was going on and how their relationship became vulnerable to an affair. Couples can heal after a husband or wife has cheated.  We do believe that this is much more likely to happen in therapy, and with a therapist who has the firm belief that there is a bond there, it just needs desperate help.

What Does This Mean?

It means you aren’t going to marriage counseling to see if you have it in you to work things out. You are going so you can see why it’s so hard to try.

You aren’t going to see why you seem to hate each other. You are going so you can find other ways to let your partner know that you aren’t OK with things that threaten your bond. 

It means that there is hope, even if you question that.

It also means that you need to find a marriage counselor that actually believes this. If they aren’t sure that people sitting in front of them really have a bond, they won’t be as likely to have confidence in their own treatment. This is a problem, so seek a couples counselor with real training in couples and marriage therapy. Seriously.

If you are ready to have a complimentary consultation with one of our trained Denver marriage counselors to see if we can help you develop an unshakable belief in your relationship, please call us at (720) 443-1947, or use our contact form to get in touch.

What Will Kill Your Couples Therapy

couples therapy hopefulnessCouples Therapy has a Killer.

A frequent problem we see for couples in our couples therapy practice in Denver is that it’s just so hard to see a way out of something when you are in the midst of it. Most couples wait an average of six years before entering couples therapy, and by this time there are a lot of stories that they really buy into. They feel like this is just the “way it is.” They are convinced that they have tried everything, and they probably have (until they get into couples therapy). The issues that have plagued their relationship have been going on for so long that they just seem like they are dead ends, and the couple may be pondering whether they are actually right for each other, whether they are “falling out of love”, etc.

This is called hopelessness, and we need to see it for what it is. It is an evil, energy sucking, distraction that sits on your shoulder and tells you that you shouldn’t even try. That you don’t have the energy to try. That nothing is going to change in your relationship, it’s not going to work. Hopelessness is a relationship killer for obvious reasons, but did you know that it’s a major barrier to getting effective therapy services?

Couples who are hopeless about their relationship often:

  1. Don’t seek couples therapy, or don’t seek it in time.

  2. Don’t do the internal work necessary to really look at the issues and create change, because they are already checked out.

  3. Unwittingly sabotage the couples therapy or undermine their partner’s attempts to make positive changes by resisting them.

I think the most harmful effect of hopelessness on the relationship is that it becomes the lens through which we see everything. Your current state of feeling about the relationship becomes the filter through which you see all the issues and possible solutions. Like rose-colored glasses, but… not rosy. It’s the relationship is half dead phenomenon.

The trick is that you have to sidestep hopelessness so that it doesn’t rob you of the chance to improve the relationship. This is difficult since you need to see something positive to become hopeful. Unless you kill hopelessness.

It’s easy to just go along with the hopeless thoughts and not question whether they are even true. Many of our thoughts are not true, or at least are not the absolute, undeniable, unchangeable, fully objective truth. In couples therapy, there are a lot of things that challenge your perception of reality, because you are both deepening your experience of each other to create more understanding, connection, and trust. So why not start on that path before couples therapy by working on your hopelessness?

Here’s how to kill hopelessness:

1. Notice it.

Notice that you are having thoughts that things are pointless, or whatever your mind tells you about why this is just not going to work.

 

2. See it for what it is: a thought.

Thoughts are not always true, and even if they are, they aren’t always helpful. Realizing that, strong as they are, they are still just thoughts, can free you a bit to act (such as pursuing couples therapy even if you aren’t sure it will work, instead of using hopelessness as an excuse).

3. Ask yourself what’s scary about letting hopelessness go.

Is it protecting you from trying and getting hurt? From getting your hopes up? From showing that you are hurting?

4. Bring it out into the light of day.

Talk about the hopelessness with your couples therapist. Chances are, your partner is feeling some of that as well, and a good couples therapist knows that it’s there and wants to help you slay it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as a couples therapist I just wish that I could kill hopelessness. It’s such a demon. It’s a symptom of the problem, not the predictor of whether the problem is fixable. And we can do a whole lot in spite of hopelessness if we realize that we are caught in its grips and don’t want to let it run the show.

If you are feeling hopeless in your relationship and just aren’t sure about whether couples counseling could help, we invite you to have a free consultation with one of our wonderful couples therapists in Denver (Lakewood) where you can chat about what couples therapy could do for you.

Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who call and ask, “Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?”Woman free from depression  While there are times that this is needed, I’ll give the perspective that I have as a couples counselor on whether you should seek both individual counseling and couples counseling.

The Notion That You Need to Work On Yourself First Is Outdated and Blaming

One of the main reasons that people feel they may need individual counseling is that they think, or have been told by their partner, that they have “some issues” to work out. Sure, folks have issues. However, the majority of the time, unless we are talking about a serious mental health diagnosis or some other big stuff, it’s not a good idea to see your issues as something that you need to go off in private to work on. 

Why is your relationship struggling? Is it because you have these issues that you can’t handle, and your partner is an innocent bystander being caught in the crossfire of your stuff? Or are you like most couples, where you both do things that result in the other person feeling hurt, unheard, angry, etc? The fact is that relationships can be a huge contributor to things like depression and anxiety, as well as anger and bad moods. Fights and distance can make depression and anxiety worse. Looking at these things outside of the relationship is like going to the doctor for knee pain and not bringing your knee.  A LOT of things can successfully be addressed in the light of improving your most important relationship.

Plus, it makes it seem like you’re the reason your relationship is struggling. As a couples counselor, I know this is usually not true. And buying into blaming one person for what’s wrong in a relationship is, well, probably not helping the relationship. 

The Notion That Your Partner’s Involvement Can’t Help You Heal Is Also Outdated

In the olden days, psychoanalysis was an individual pursuit. The field of relationship therapy came out of a response to seeing that our loved ones are the biggest source of both our pleasure and pain. Not including them really denies how powerful the bond with your loved ones is in helping you cope. 

There are things that we bring into a relationship that are bigger than the relationship itself. Things like depression, anxiety, past trauma, these are all things that can feel like a huge barrier to us being able to be really present and show up in our relationship in a way that creates closeness instead of distance or fights. Being able to explore some of how this impacts your relationship, with your partner in the room, can really help them understand what’s going on, and how they play a role (positive or not) in the interactions between you.

There is some research being done that is pointing to the healing power of the relationship for things like addictions, depression, and trauma. There’s even evidence that we feel pain and fear more intensely when we don’t have the comfort of our partner (if the relationship is strong). Things that have traditionally warranted a solely individual approach can be folded in with the couples counseling in powerful ways. And working on improving the relationship has incredible benefits for your individual coping and resilience. Win-win.  Many of these things do require individual counseling as well, but we prefer to suggest that you start with couples counseling before adding individual counseling.

Why We Suggest Starting With Couples Counseling First

Instead of jumping feet first into several types of counseling at once, we suggest starting with couples counseling for several reasons:

  1. It gives the therapist a chance to assess the situation and help you decide if it’s indeed true that you need extra individual support from another therapist doing individual therapy.
  2. Your couples therapist can help you find ways in which the individual therapy and couples counseling are going to compliment each other. You can choose an individual therapist that works from a relationship point of view. Some types of therapy can accidentally undermine your couples work by giving you contradictory advice, such as to deal with your emotions by yourself instead of learning how to respond to becoming upset with your partner in the moment, with them there.  We really like to set individual therapy clients up with another practitioner who also does couples therapy right here in our practice. This way, you know you will be complimenting both your individual and couples therapy by addressing things in both types of therapy in ways that make sense together.
  3. It prevents you from starting too much counseling at once. This can be counterproductive and confusing.
  4. It gives you, as a couple, a good first glimpse into all the things that you’ll be able to accomplish with couples therapy. This helps get you off to a good start where you are both seeing your own role in the relationship issues, rather than one partner being pre-labeled as the “one who really needs the therapy.”

Do I Need Individual Counseling AND Couples Counseling?

Hopefully this has given you some glimpse into how we approach this, but this is a good question to ask any counselor that you are considering seeing. If someone absolutely says that you shouldn’t do couples therapy until all of your individual issues are resolved, you can run screaming for the hills.  And if you ask a couples counselor this question, you can get a good glimpse into how they work and what their approach is.

Disclaimer 

There are some instances where couples counseling is absolutely not a good idea – such as when there is physical abuse in the relationship, or when someone has active addiction that is so strong that they are not yet capable of interacting in a meaningful way in therapy. (However, both of these situations also need assessment because they aren’t black and white, so it’s still best to contact a qualified couples therapist to get assessed).

 

 

Empty Nest and a Full Marriage

By Kristy Vergo

With all of the recent high school and college graduations happening around me recently, I can’t help but ponder the effect this has on the empty nest parents of the graduate. Your marriage or partnership is a living thing, and when it goes from including children on a daily basis to not including children, it can be a big time of change for your relationship.  

For some couples, there might be a sense of relief as their child graduates high school and thinks about going away to college, because now they have privacy, quiet, and fewer time demands. This may elicit feelings of freedom, as it creates space for all of the things that they would like to do.

On the flipside, there may be some worry; now that they don’t have kids to focus on and school schedules to keep, they may feel bored or empty. Many couples struggle with how to reconnect once the kids are gone. When you both miss your graduate, how can you get used to it just being the two of you again?

1) Notice and be honest about your feelings, not only with yourself, but with your loved ones.  It’s OK to be sad, angry, happy, and anxious all at once.  Ever heard of what you resist, persists? Different stages of family life are both joyful and sad, we need to let ourselves be human and experience this.

2) Offer an ear and a heart to your partner in their feelings. You might not be on the same page at all times. One feels relieved to have an empty nest, and the other feels sad. Make it OK for you to each have these different feelings, and create a space where you aren’t feeling these things alone.

3) Know what to expect. You may move through mourning the end of your parenting years, then recovery, and finally, renewal. Your partner and you may be having a tough time, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t rediscover each other and build a new, enriching phase of life. This is a big change, it will come with lots of ups and downs.

4) Look for ways to connect.  As social creatures, humans are wired for connection.  Don’t allow yourselves to retreat into separate lives that struggle to connect now that the kids are gone. Have date nights,  explore new hobbies together, connect intimately. This could become a second honeymoon for you.

Couples counseling can also be a great way to come together and create a new, strong foundation for how you will move forward and have an enriching life with an empty nest. Couples counseling isn’t just for when you are having trouble communicating, but can be a great way to enter new phases of life together and feel together.

 

 

Kristy Vergo Therapist Denver

 

 

 

 

Kristy is a warm and genuine couples therapist with a passion for helping you make sense of how the big things in life can affect your relationship. If you’d like to meet Kristy and explore what working with her would be like, contact us for a free consultation today.

 

No Couple is Alone – Marriage Equality and the Fight for Healthy Relationships

As I sit here in my office, I’m thinking about all of the couples that we provide counseling to. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Straight. The one thing that they all have in common that you might not think about is that fact that they all take great comfort in knowing that their relationship probBigstock- 18700070 - Two woman holding their handslems are universal. That’s right. Every single couple that comes in is struggling with something that, on one level or another, many many couples struggle with. The joy in this is understanding that we are all the same in our pain, we can shed some light and get rid of shame. Too many couples avoid seeking help for their marriage or relationship because they feel ashamed about it. Defective. Failing.

Now imagine that same feeling compounded by the thought that their relationship isn’t even recognized legally.

I’m sitting here with happy tears knowing that as we all unite as humans, in human relationships, we can give to everyone the support that being seen and heard gives. It heals you to know that you aren’t alone in your pain, that the types of struggles you have are the same things that many struggle with. It heals you to see that your relationship is recognized as a real thing. We need to come together to support the flourishing of love in all of its forms, and today is a wonderful day to continue that.  

So, here’s to all of the people who work for the health of our bedrock relationships, both legally and emotionally. Marriage Equality is one important step in promoting relationships, family, connection, and upholding the importance of our most important relationships. Every day we fight for our relationships. We struggle with the issues that love relationships have. We testify and promote legal equality. And at some point, it won’t be taboo for a couple to get support to maintain these most precious bonds. Love is a verb, and it needs to be practiced. 

Kat Mindenhall, LCSW, is the Director of A Peaceful Life Counseling Services in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in helping people create vibrant lives and relationships.