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Ready to Call It Quits

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On the advice of a friend, Ann and Dave sought my help at a serious crossroads. Dave had just moved out after acknowledging he was having an emotional affair. Although married only three years, this couple felt disconnected and discouraged. This is a sad enough scenario, that of young marrieds who only a few years ago were excited, close and eagerly envisioning a long life together as they walked down the aisle. What made their situation even sadder is that they had a three-month-old baby who was starting her life with parents on the brink of divorce.

What Ann and Dave soon came to realize in their counseling sessions is that the tools needed to communicate after the honeymoon were missing in their marriage. Because they did not know have to productive disagreements, they devolved into criticism and blame. They also had failed to make regular deposits into their relationship bank account such as dates, showing one another little caring behaviors, intimacy, having fun and continuing their adventures.  The combination of increased conflict and reduced expressions of affection caused them to feel painfully disconnected. (more…)

June 7, 2017 |

Reconnect as Friends and Lovers

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Fran, after 26 years of marriage, had decided to divorce Harry. She had consulted an attorney, told her mother and sister and put Harry on notice. Then her two teenage daughters called a family meeting and insisted that their mother and father get counseling.

Fran described Harry as a negative person who found fault with almost everything she did. She felt blamed by Harry for almost anything that went wrong in their lives and for Harry a lot went wrong.

Harry felt ignored and neglected because Fran “loved her work more than anything else.” He felt that he came way down on her list of priorities after work, the kids, the house and the dog. This left him feeling hurt and angry. Although neither of them ever thought divorce would be a part of their lives it now seemed like the only possibility.

Counseling helped each of them see the particular part they each played in keeping their marriage unhealthy. (more…)

June 7, 2017 |

Repairing a Miserable Marriage

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Alice and Tor have been married for 10 years, no children. She is a nurse and he a government worker. They have mixed ethnic heritage. She is white Anglo and he is second generation Asian. When they came to see me, they were exhibiting signs of high distress. They didn’t think their marriage would survive. She described him as a “narcissistic selfish mamma’s boy” and he described her as “ out of control crazy and emotional”. They had seen another marriage counselor who let them fight for three sessions straight until they fired him. By the time they sought my help, she was self-injuring and he was withdrawing into work and drinking.

I worked with them for approximately 24 sessions. At first, they came once a week, after 10 sessions, they dropped to once every other week and then to once a month. I stopped seeing them about 2 years ago. They recently came in for a “check-up” during which they disclosed their pregnancy. They purpose of the session was to help them figure out what steps they could take to anticipate what challenges to their relationship would parenting bring. (more…)

June 7, 2017 |

Bringing Home Baby

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“We were so in love, Janet said, until the baby was born. Then it was as if I had two children, Jim and Kayla; as Kayla was expected, she was not the problem”. This was Janet’s opening sentence to me when first we spoke. She has a great sense of humor, which allowed for a high level of patience and perseverance when confronted with her husband Jim’s jealous behaviors concerning their newly born daughter Kayla.

In a couples session, Janet told Jim that she wanted him to stop complaining that she did not give him enough attention at night when he came home from work, and that she did not have breakfast with him anymore and that he had no free time to play sports. Janet shared that she was sleep deprived and needed to rest in the morning, if she was able to, after she fed Kayla. She would love to spend time with Jim at night but she needed to shower and could only do that when he was home. She continued to share that “on the weekends, I would like some time to sleep since you are home and can take care of Kayla for an hour or two”. It seems that neither Janet nor Jim had discussed or understood what the time constrictions would be with a newborn. They were having quite a challenge as many couples do with the adjustment into parenthood. (more…)

June 2, 2017 |

The Blame Game: A Marriage Caught in the Cycle

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Joanne hadn’t realized that it had been years since she and her husband Bill had even looked into each other’s eyes. They were both flooded with emotion when they finally did – for more than three seconds – in the counseling office. They missed one another. Joanne had finally owned up to the fact that she had been taking her anger out on him for the past 10 years. He had wanted her to start exercising so that she’d have more of the sexy body he was attracted to when they were younger. She was deeply offended, even though she knew she was out of shape and overweight. Joanne had been punishing him, nonetheless, and she was finally admitting it.

But Joanne wanted to go deeper. She talked about being at a place in her life when she knew it was time to either get real or get out. She wanted to get real and she wanted Bill to join her. Bill, as it turns out, wasn’t so sure. He certainly talked about wanting a more intimate relationship but Bill wanted to have his cake and to eat it too. He didn’t want to have to stand up for anything or to take risks or be vulnerable with Joanne. He wanted Joanne to carry the relationship load, as she always had, and he’d just tag along. If he didn’t like something he’d twist it and blame her for not taking his desires into account. Joanne was done with that game.

She got a hold of herself and stopped taking his blame. She waited for him to initiate sex rather than initiating it herself all the time. Bill hemmed and hawed, jerked and finger pointed, worried and closed off – for weeks. Joanne wavered from time to time, afraid she’d lose him, but she remained determined to have a better relationship. While anxious, Joanne grew in confidence. Will Bill join her? Have you been in Joanne’s position? Bill’s? Can you relate? We’d love to hear your story!

Written with client confidentiality by Miriam Bellamy, LMFT

June 2, 2017 |

Divorce for a Good Marriage?

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“The last marriage counselor we saw said that we should get a divorce”. These are the most painful words for me to hear when I work with a couple that has been courageous enough to seek out help for their troubled marriage.

Marriage is hard and conflict inevitable, and that conflict can cause a relationship to feel empty, stuck and desperate. In fact, the marriage can feel “depressed”. If you were depressed and saw a counselor who suggested that you end your miserable existence, I would hope you would fire the individual and report them to their board. When a marriage counselor advises a couple to end their miserable marriage that professional is suggesting that the couple kill their depressed relationship.

Steve and Becca were just this couple. They saw two other counselors before me who both suggested that they divorce. Somehow they had the good sense to keep looking for help with their unproductive conflict styles. They were a typical two-income couple with busy lives, two kids, and a seven-year marriage. In the first session, I asked them to describe their marriage, starting with what they appreciate about one another. After 20 minutes of listing their appreciations, I had to cut them off and ask them to share what wasn’t working. What felt awful was their conflict style. Also typical, Steve’s conflict style was to retreat inside, not answer Becca’s questions, go silent and refuse to talk. In other words, he was a Turtle. Becca, on the other hand, was outspoken, expressed her complaints aloud, pursued Steve when he retreated and escalated the tension by threatening to leave. She became a Hailstorm in their conflict style. Because Turtles are afraid of hail, Steve would retreat further and then finally blow up and become a snapping turtle.

After listening I recapped their stories, “so what I hear you saying is that about 90% of your relationship is wonderful. (more…)

February 1, 2017 |

Putting the Men in Menopause

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A Couple Seeks Help Navigating the Seasons of Life

The first time that I met with Mrs. Z, an attractive 54-year-old woman, she described this recent scene:

I felt like canceling Valentine’s Day with my husband. We were meeting in New York City and I arrived at Port Authority on a gloomy, rainy day. As I walked across town the rains came down with a vengeance and the winds swept the water under my umbrella. That afternoon, I had taken extra care with my make-up and my hair. Suddenly, it all dismantled under the endless streams of water. As I passed a store window, I looked at my reflection. My hair was matted down on my forehead, and the makeup had already dripped away. I saw my clothing cling to my body showing every bulge.

When I arrived at my husband’s building, I took the elevator up. The receptionist was a very attractive young woman with long, curly, thick brown hair, a sharp contrast to my matted down, already thinning, middle-aged hair. She barely acknowledged me as she called my husband’s administrative assistant to take me to my husband’s office. Sally, the admin, had stunningly silky long hair, a beautiful figure and was dressed to the nines for her own Valentine date that evening. I could barely breathe as I walked into my husband’s office. I saw Sally as the other woman. She’s the one he thinks is such a wonderful secretary. She’s the one that meets all his needs at the office. I felt like strangling her as I managed a small smile. When I got to Roger’s office, his eyes lit up. I closed the door, sat down and cried. I really wanted to cancel Valentine’s Day.

Mrs. Z was in the throes of menopause. Her body was changing and she was no longer feeling as attractive as she once had felt. They had been married 30 years. She felt as if her husband was less interested in her and was frantically trying to win back his attention. Her life had been at home with her children and her last child had left for college. The nest was empty and the days felt long and tedious.

I asked questions about their relationship and found that they had a history of what they described as a good marriage. A couple of years ago, she noticed vaginal changes, dryness, and pain during intercourse. She began avoiding sex. He began to enjoy the attention of the women at work. She became increasingly frantic about whether he was more interested in them, specifically his cute administrative assistant, than in her.

Mrs. Z and I spoke about her interests and what she was like before she married and had children. She was an art major in college and never lost her love of the art world. She began to work on getting herself refocused on her own interests. She joined an artist co-op so that she did not have to paint in isolation and soon began feeling good about herself again.

They began to have honest discussions about their sex life. They had never discussed sex before because they never felt the need to do that. He shared that he had felt rejected and that he thought maybe she was having an affair with someone else because of her lack of interest in sex with him. The worse he felt, the more that he threw himself into work. The more he avoided her, the more she felt rejected. As they began to see the cycle, they began to work on understanding what was going on between them. They worked on understanding the need for communication rather than avoidance. The spark that they once had began to be rekindled and they started to enjoy sex and each other once again.

A year after they left therapy I received a note from Mrs. Z. She said that their relationship was back on track, but as importantly, she had reinvented herself, was having an art show and was beginning to think about going back to school to get the credits she might need to become an art teacher.

 

All information is disguised in several ways for maximum confidentiality.  Submitted by Randy Freeman, MSW, a Marriage Friendly Therapist in Wayne, New Jersey.  She can be found at RFreemanTherapy.com 

February 1, 2017 |

From Anger Management to Renewing their Vows

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Anger and Resentment in Marriage

Bob called me in desperation when his wife, Sue, said she was moving out after nearly 30 years of marriage.  She did, however, agree to come to marriage counseling before she left.  After the first session, I would have put money on the two of them ending in divorce.  Bob looked like a deer in headlights, admitting to causing the entire family to have walked on eggshells because of his temper, but committed to doing whatever it took to save his marriage.  He was in individual treatment to learn how to handle anger and he was clearly motivated to do couples’ therapy.

Sue was the picture of apathy – she was relieved Bob was changing, but she was so weary from all of the years of Bob’s volatility.  She didn’t know if it made enough of a difference to make her stay.  While we interspersed a few sessions with both of them, most of the time we did individual work.  My focus with Bob was helping him use his new tools of being kind, respectful and patient toward Sue.  I worked with Sue as she was trying to make a decision about staying or leaving.  This went on for four months.

Therapy hit a crisis one day when Bob called saying he had received an anonymous phone call that Sue was having an affair.  Before he called Sue to give her this information, he called me.  Together we talked about how he would stay calm, ask her to come home, and hear her story. Because of his hard work over the months and his clear plan to listen to her, she admitted the affair and asked Bob if he could forgive her.  From then on they came for therapy together.  Only two months after the affair was discovered, Bob and Sue renewed their wedding vows.  They looked and sounded like newlyweds.

I’ll never forget the words they spoke in their last session:  “It’s so much easier being loving toward one another rather than angry and mean.”

All information is disguised in several ways for maximum confidentiality.  Submitted by Joan Pechauer, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Maple Grove, Minnesota. You can also find Joan online at MapleGroveCouples.com

January 10, 2017 |

Fired by The Marriage Counselor!

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Melanie burst into tears the minute they sat down in my office. “We got fired by our last marriage counselor,” she said between sobs. “He just sat back in his chair while Mike and I fought, and then he told me I was too angry. He never listened to me at all, and when I tried to talk about our problems he told me I was irrational.”

Not only had Melanie and Mike been fired by their therapist, but Mike had packed a suitcase and moved out of their Manhattan apartment. Things were headed downhill fast for these two successful professionals whose marriage was bringing out their most frightened, furious selves.

Marriage has an amazing capacity to bring out our inner two-year-old. The sheer hatred a partner can feel over a wet towel dropped on the floor or a forgotten errand is breathtaking. Once I was able to reassure Melanie that she was not crazy, that she had a right to be heard, and that she could learn new ways to express herself to Mike that he could understand and respond to, they began talking more calmly about their differences. Now in our sessions I began to see signs of real warmth between them. Their voices softened. They glanced at each other warmly, almost shyly. Mike reached across the sofa to pat Melanie’s hand.

You deserve marriage counseling that avoids labeling you, that offers structure and safety in the sessions, and that offers you practical new tools for sharing your concerns and longings with your partner. With energetic, educated support, you can work to put your marriage back on track.

 

Written by Jean Fitzpatrick, LP.  All information is disguised in several ways for maximum confidentiality.  Learn more about Jean at TherapistNYC.com

January 10, 2017 |
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