A Peaceful Life’s Blog

How Does Couples Therapy For One Work?

How does couples therapy for one work? Have You Ever Wondered Whether You Can Go To Couples Counseling Alone?

Our last post about What to Do if Your Partner Won’t go to Couples Therapy  raised some great discussion online and offline about whether or not you can go to couples therapy by yourself. In my practice I have seen just one partner for couples therapy with great results.

Instead of creating a blog post devoted to how and why couples therapy for one can work, I created a page on the website for it because it’s something that many folks wonder about. Find out how couples therapy for one is similar to couples therapy with two, and get some answers to common objections that you may have about going to couples therapy by yourself.

So feel free to read about Couples Therapy for One, and leave a comment below about what your own thoughts are! Do you think it’s a good idea? Have you ever tried it? Wanted to try it, but didn’t know if it would be a good idea?

If you wonder how does couples therapy for one work, contact us to discuss whether couples therapy for one could be a viable option for you.

What to do When your Partner Won’t go to Couples Therapy

what to do when your partner won't go to couples therapyIt can feel frustrating and hopeless when your partner won’t even give couples therapy a second thought.

Maybe you have tried to address the issues in the relationship, read some books, talked to friends, fought over and over, and have decided that it’s time to give couples therapy a try. But, you are met with a wall when it comes to getting your partner to go.

Let’s be clear – you can’t make someone do something that they will not do. Even if you give ultimatums, your partner is likely to feel forced and not really open to the experience. The best tactic is to tap into the very thing that’s keeping him or her from wanting to come.

There are a variety of reasons for not wanting to go to couples therapy. Your partner might be experiencing many different fears, but here are some of the common ones:

  • Being afraid that the therapist will blame them for the relationship problems, or that the two of you will gang up them.
  • Honestly believing that YOU are the one that needs help, and internally blaming you for what’s going wrong in the relationship.
  • Being worried that counseling is going to literally be a painful experience.
  • Thinking that there are no issues in the relationship, and that couples therapy isn’t necessary.

One Tactic to Address all of These Concerns

Going to couples therapy takes courage, and anything that takes courage naturally comes with discomfort. But, here’s a way to put a dent in all of those barriers that your partner is experiencing with one tactic.

Discuss what you will get out of therapy, how it will help you become a better spouse, and why you need your partner’s participation in that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you are to blame for the relationship problems. But the fact is that every couple has two members, and every relationship problem has two players. Your contribution to your relationship issues may be as simple as how you respond to your partner’s poor relationship behavior. This still involves you. Tell your partner that you want to go to couples therapy so that you can find tools to use that will help you improve as a spouse. Talk about how much the marriage means to you and how willing you are to do whatever it takes to make it better. And make sure your partner hears how important their help is in doing this.

This is not about taking responsibility for your partner’s behavior, or blaming yourself. Especially if you are in an abusive relationship or have the habit of taking on too much responsibility for changing everything in the relationship. But in my experience, many people don’t tell their partner how they themselves are willing to change. They focus on what their partner needs to change, and engage in unhelpful tactics such as arguing, begging, distancing, and giving ultimatums. Doing something different such as expressing the reasons you personally want to improve with the help of a couples therapist could be a fresh take.

If your partner is worried they will be blamed or that you and the couples therapist will gang up on them, this helps to show them that you are approaching this with some level of personal accountability. You aren’t merely looking for a referee or someone to help you convince your partner that they are to blame. The fact is that a good couples therapist does not play the blame game, and would rather have you both ganging up on the problems rather than on each other. But, your spouse might just need to get into the first session to be able to see that this fear is, well, just a fear.

If your partner really does think that you are to blame, then they might be more open to giving therapy a try if they think that you are open to looking at what role you do play in the relationship issues. This isn’t setting you up to take responsibility for everything. As I mentioned above, a good therapist doesn’t do that. But, if it gets your partner to consider coming to therapy you can both work on taking responsibility for your own contributions to the patterns once you’re there.

If your partner is worried that it will literally be a painful experience, having some alleviation of the other fears could go a long way toward helping them cope with their avoidance of dealing with issues. Couples therapy isn’t easy, but neither is anything that is so important. Being a good spouse and parent, advancing your career, creating a healthy lifestyle and taking care of yourself – none of this is easy.

And lastly, if your partner doesn’t think that there is anything in the relationship that could benefit from couples therapy, perhaps hearing from you what you want to get out of it for yourself would be something that your partner would be willing to hear.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to create a more positive and inviting story around couples therapy, but it’s one that can be pretty effective. The truth is that a couples therapist is going to help both of you do your best to create the kind of relationship that you want, and taking the first step in thinking about that will go a long way toward avoiding or repairing attempts to blame and force a reluctant partner into couples therapy.

And if all else fails, having some therapy for yourself can greatly improve your relationship. Most relationship issues can be explored and approached in different ways even by just one person. A couples therapist can help you discover ways to improve your marriage even when your partner won’t go to couples therapy. If you are interested in exploring how couples therapy or individual relationship counseling can help, please reach out to us and have a free consultation.

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.

The Real Reason You Can’t Stay Motivated

The real reason you can't stay motivatedI have a really bad habit when I’m trying to stay motivated to change something about my life. It’s something that I recognize does me no good, but it creeps up on me like the dishes and the laundry. I don’t notice it at first, but then suddenly I’m knee-deep.  Somehow my optimism about things has dissolved and I have a case of the screw-its. I’m talking about feeling discouraged at the amount of progress I’ve made in my endeavors. Trying to be a better parent and spouse. Trying to do the things that I know are important for my mental and physical well-being.  Have you ever worked hard at something, but couldn’t stay motivated because you weren’t seeing any progress? Since I’m a human, I do things that work against my peace of mind. And, since I’m a therapist, I know I didn’t invent this little mind game.  In my Lakewood counseling practice I see this all the time.

There are plenty ways to describe this habit. You can call it perfectionism, pessimism, realism, the need for instant gratification (I want this issue fixed now). Sometimes I just call it:

“I’m never going to stop yelling as a parent. Things were going well this morning and then I blew it.”

“My partner and I haven’t solved our fighting problem, this isn’t working at all.”

Why do we do this to ourselves? Goal setting and staying motivated while you are imperfect isn’t easy. Here’s a neat way to combat this that I got from a mentor of mine:



String. This is a powerful metaphor for setting goals and having confidence. And it’s a way to learn how to be gentle with yourself. Here’s how it goes:

Everyone has a certain length of string. This string represents how much good stuff we have that can combat a problem. Coping skills and tools to use in difficult situations. Knowledge that we need. Resources such as having enough support and encouragement. Usually we have a relatively short piece of string. We humans tend to recycle the same strategies to deal with issues over and over. We yell. We sulk. We turn to substances or other distractions. We get mad. We approach our issues the same way over and over.

We add to our string every time that we work at improving ourselves, try to learn new ways to deal, etc.  So you tried to be patient with your spouse and not start an argument when you would otherwise have gotten into a huge fight? String. You are trying to take better care of yourself by eating healthier? String. You tried out meditation that one time? String. We don’t add a whole lot of string at one time because we don’t magically erase all of our problems at once. We tend to add it inch by inch.

Here’s the problem

If you had five feet of string, then, no, an inch wouldn’t even be noticeable. That is the lens that we are looking through – we think we have way more than we do, so small changes are too little, too late. But, adding an inch of string to 4 inches is a significant improvement.  That’s something to protect and keep working at. It’s very, very easy to discount your efforts because you think that you should be better at this happiness thing. Then, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep trying.

You didn’t yell at your children this morning, but by the end of the day you were barking orders from the couch again. You tried really hard not to argue with your spouse, but you still had an argument anyway. We think, “That’s nice, but it’s not enough. This isn’t fixed.” We focus on the fact that we didn’t add ten feet of string, and we cut off the bit that we do have by thinking it’s not enough.

It may sound strange that overestimating how many coping skills we really have is not helpful. Isn’t self-esteem important? But, what does it do to your self-esteem to feel like no matter how hard you try, you stink and aren’t changing enough in your life?  By remembering that naturally we humans only have a few ways that we know of to deal with issues, we can take a deep breath and realize that a teeny bit of string added (to our tiny bit of string) is a real change. Yelling bit less during the day, holding off before you jump into that argument, thinking about starting to eat better – inch by inch you are making real progress.

So when I’m getting discouraged at just how little I’ve been able to change, I try to take that as a clue that I need to think about string. If you are struggling to improve your relationships or accomplish your goals and feeling stuck, it might be time to call us at (720) 443-1947 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and learn how to create the life you want.

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.

How to be Your Own Therapist

How to be your own therapistBe your own therapist? This is what you need to know

My approach to counseling is about creating psychological flexibility- the ability to essentially be your own therapist. If you can remember the parts of a butterfly, you are well on your way to understanding the elements of what psychological flexibility is.

Our psychological flexibility is like a butterfly. A butterfly has two wings (in this example) and a body in the middle. Each wing flutters in sync and they attach to the body, which is like the hub and hinge of it all. Without the body, the wings are useless. Without each wing, the creature falls to the ground and spins in circles. (Sad picture, but stay with me here).

We all have painful and unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and habits that get in the way of just about everything. We have to be able to cope with these feelings and thoughts as they come. Many people can see clearly that this is necessary, and enter therapy searching for a way to do just this. Working with these thoughts and feelings is one wing of our butterfly.

The second wing balances the other. It is the important stuff; our goals and meaningful things we do that make our lives vital. It’s going in the direction that is healthy and good for you. It’s knowing what direction that would be, and what we’d be doing more of to get there. Sometimes folks are aware that they need something like this, but may have no idea how to figure that out and create change.

In the middle is our butterfly body. This anchors and powers our two wings of strength and meaning. The body is our ability to be present and have a helpful rather than a rigid story about ourselves and our struggles. Being able to notice when one of the wings is off and what needs to be done to fly well  are the hinges that keep the butterfly going.  That’s where you learn how to be your own therapist. Many people come to therapy craving some way to learn how to make themselves feel better. They want to see what the problem is and what to do about it.

Two wings and a body, and you have a beautiful analogy of psychological flexibility. Any issue, from actual diagnosed mental illnesses to relationship struggles and stress, call for psychological flexibility. Wouldn’t you like to have a mind like a butterfly? Strength, meaning, and presence. To be able to float, change course, land quietly, and make fine tuned adjustments in your life. Flexible enough to dream of new possibilities and strong enough to deal with what gets in the way.

If you are like many folks who feel more like that butterfly going in circles on the ground, I’d love to help you increase your psychological flexibility in your life and relationships.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

Coping with Anxiety

Coping with Anxiety by Learning the Secret Ingredient to Anxiety

Coping With Anxiety by Understanding the Secret Ingredient to Anxiety

Coping with anxiety can be tough, especially if you aren’t quite sure what the anxiety is all about. Most people think that coping with anxiety is about making yourself feel more relaxed, or trying not to worry about certain things. But, anxiety can take many forms, a lot of which don’t seem like worry at all. In this article we’re going to approach coping with anxiety from a different perspective that helps you recognize it in many forms and address the root.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

The root of anxiety is something called Experiential Avoidance. This simply means trying not to feel pain or discomfort. Our brain tells us that we can avoid feeling like crap if we try to control more of the situation. Ask yourself if any of the following sounds familiar:

  • You don’t want to feel anxious about being late, so you set your alarm for extra early. You start to feel anxious about missing your alarm, and to get rid of that feeling you check your alarm clock. That helps, a bit, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away, so you do more to try to avoid those feelings by also setting your phone. Then, you ask your partner to make sure you’re up at a certain time. You think you are avoiding being late, but your actions are really helping you feel less anxious about thing in the moment.
  • You don’t want to get into a car accident because that scares you, so you are a very careful driver. Being careful hasn’t gotten rid of the fear that you are going to have an accident, so you up your game and stop driving on busy roads. This helps for a while, but then you figure you should stop driving on the highway. It’s the feeling that you are afraid of getting into an accident that you are trying to get rid of.
  • You had a fight with your partner. You replay the fight in your head over and over again, and your brain tells you that you are processing it. But, really, what you are doing is called rumination. You are trying to analyze what you could have said differently, what you will say if that comes up again, what you wish your partner would have said or not said. You don’t like the way the fight went, and that causes you to worry that the relationship is in trouble. You don’t like feeling like your relationship is in trouble, and you don’t like feeling like you aren’t tackling the issue in the best way because you’re unprepared for the argument. To avoid that feeling, your brain replays this scene over and over, and it’s all in an effort to feel less anxious in the moment about the relationship.

This connection may not seem super clear, but if you put some thought into it you will see that in every situation where you are coping with anxiety, you can ask yourself, “What is it that I am trying to control? To not feel? To avoid?” Most of the time the answer makes perfect sense. I’m trying not to feel anxious, of course! I’m trying to avoid problems, duh! I’m trying to do things correctly so that I can feel no regrets or failure! These are understandable wishes, but there’s one catch:

The feeling of anxiety is a natural byproduct of doing things. Of living. There isn’t a way to avoid it. Coping with anxiety literally means making room for a bit of anxiety to ride along with you while you do life.

When we get caught up in the habitual way that we try to control everything around us so that we never feel anxious (or stressed, unprepared, regretful, shame, whatever), then we are actually feeding a loop where we never quite quench our thirst to be free from anxiety.

How Anxiety Hijacks Us

Oftentimes, we avoid doing things that are important to us because of what is getting in the way. Do an experiment: Take a problem that you have, whatever it is. Now, think of what you’d like to be able to do about that in a perfect world. Now, ask yourself what stops you from doing that. If the answer is another problem, ask yourself the same questions. Eventually, you will get down to what thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, (any private, internal experience) that you are avoiding having.

It looks like this:

“I have a problem in my relationship. I would like to be able to talk it out with my partner, but I can’t because we’ll get into a fight. I don’t want to get into a fight because I don’t want us to be upset at each other. I don’t want us to be upset at each other because I worry that we won’t be able to get over it. I don’t want to be in a situation that we can’t get over because that might break us up. I don’t want us to break up because I love my partner and I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want to lose them because I would be alone. So, I avoid talking about our issues in this relationship because I fear that they will leave me and I’ll be alone.”

In this example, the avoidance of feeling afraid that you’ll break up is the issue. It results in you not actually trying to fix anything in the relationship, which takes you further toward breaking up. If you were able to see that the fear of feeling this way blocks you, you could experience that fear and still do what’s important for the relationship to survive and thrive. (By the way, this fear is normal, and hey- there are ways to talk about that with your partner.) There are also ways to tell if the discomfort in your relationship is a symptom of being on a good path or not. And if you are avoiding relationship conflict, here’s a good article on the pitfalls of that approach.

Here are some other examples of experiential avoidance- see if you have ever done any of these things:

  • Procrastinating
  • Avoiding things that require too much effort or that make you feel like a failure – like working out, hobbies, etc.
  • Letting opportunities go to avoid fears of failure or change.
  • Being self-destructive to avoid emotional pain (drinking to avoid feeling anger, smoking marijuana to avoid feeling bored).

Notice anything interesting? The problem is not the uncomfortable internal experiences you have, it’s how you choose to approach them. Waiting to feel better in order to make your life better is like waiting for an illness to subside before you treat the illness.

Coping with Anxiety

Coping with anxiety gets much easier if you can see that the problem is that you don’t want to feel anything uncomfortable, and you do a lot to avoid it. You tell yourself you are avoiding problems themselves, but really you just don’t want to feel the things that come along with life. Recognizing what you are avoiding helps coping with anxiety because it gives you strength to face your issues head on, rather than getting caught in a trap of avoiding negative feelings and creating more issues as a result. If you’d like to explore how therapy can help your coping with anxiety, we’d be happy to have a complimentary half hour consultation with you to explore whether seeing one of our individual therapists for depression or anxiety in Denver can help you.

My favorite book on the topic of coping with anxiety is the Happiness Trap, and it goes into more detail on how experiential avoidance traps you into a negative cycle of creating more issues rather than actually conquering your anxiety or depression for good.

Why Is Your Pain so Complicated?

One of the things that really contributes to stress is how our minds make up all sorts of unhelpful ways to help ourselves. One of those ways can be called Complicated Pain. Why is your pain so complicated?

Let’s say you have a young child that throws a tantrum in public. The frustration and possible embarrassment that you feel during the tantrum itself is called Simple Pain. It’s what comes naturally when life doesn’t go your way. It’s to be expected, and it will go away once the tantrum is over.

Now, let’s say that you notice this Simple Pain, and you immediately think to yourself, “I should be more patient,” or “This wouldn’t happen if I were doing a better job as a parent.” These thoughts naturally can lead to feelings of being ashamed, upset with yourself for getting irritated, feeling guilty, etc. That is Complicated Pain. It’s pain brought on by how our problem-solving minds tend to worry about how we worry, or chastise ourselves for feeling discomfort. The problem is, there is virtually no limit to how much Complicated Pain we can bring upon ourselves. There’s always a judgement, regret, worry, and uncomfortable feeling that we can pile on. Quite effortlessly, I might add.

You could take any problem you are having, and make a pie chart representing all of your suffering from a given situation. Divide it into the Simple Pain due to the problem itself (such as: Car broke down, so I have to walk), and the Complicated Pain (such as: Car broke down, so I’m worried about money, afraid that this is going to ruin the whole year, getting upset with my spouse for spending too much last week, irritated with myself for feeling this way, fearing that this means I’ll have to go see a therapist.) Ask yourself whether what you are experiencing is directly from the event, or in any way part of your thoughts about the event.

My prediction is that a lot more than half of your suffering is due to Complicated Pain. Though there are many ways to reduce this, a great and simple way to start is to just notice without judgement that this is happening. You’d be surprised at what might happen for you! But, don’t worry, I have more hints to share in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

Kat is a counseling therapist in Lakewood, CO specializing in helping people get unstuck from relationship and personal problems.