Some Relationship Advice

If you’re reading this, you must have already heard that “communication is key.” It is a common suggestion for making a relationship work because it is crucial! Communicating about the good stuff is easy, but we tend to stop doing this as our relationship ages, and communicating about the bad stuff is hard and everyone avoids it! So what do we do about it?

COMMUNICATING THE GOOD

We’ll start with the easier one. In the beginning stages of a relationship, we have no issue with this one. We are constantly pointing out to each other what we love about them–some things we actually grow to resent about our partner. Think: “Oh my gosh, he’s so cuddly!” turns in to “OH MY GOSH he won’t give me my space!” I think a large piece of this that isn’t often associated with this topic is leaving space for independent time away from your partner. When we are able to pursue our independent passions, we become more confident, our partner is able to appreciate what makes us us, and this helps to contribute to compliments! It is very easy to fall into the trap of codependence and finding happiness only in your partner’s happiness, but I challenge you to continue (or restart) to leave time for yourself and the things you like to do that you loved before your partner came in to your life. I think this helps to make communicating the good happen more naturally. If this task seems too overwhelming, start by looking out for things your appreciate in your partner, and be vocal to them about it.

COMMUNICATING THE UGLY

I’m going to start this topic with something seemingly unrelated, so be warned!

Let me tell you about one of my bigger pet-peeves, then I’ll connect it to relationship advice, I promise!

Imagine you’re driving on a multi-lane highway. You see a car in the next lane start to slow down and speed up. You wonder, are they trying to come over to your lane? This continues for a bit. Eventually you decide to slow down and leave more room in front of you, and what-do-you-know, they decide to come over. If you’re like me, you might think, “If you’d used your blinker I would have known you wanted to come over and let you in ages ago! Do you expect me to read your mind?” If the other car doesn’t communicate to me that they want to change lanes by utilizing their blinker, how am I supposed to know?

You might see where I’m going with this. Many times I have one member of a couple come in to session very frustrated with something. For example, a wife is frustrated that her husband of ten years never helps with laundry. I ask, have you ever asked for help with the laundry? She answers, no, I want him to want to do it without me nagging him! For ten years she continues to wait for him to make the first move, without giving him warning of what she wants. I ask clients to consider: what do you want, what are you doing to get what you want, and is it working? This is a reality therapy principle, but it is very applicable to situations such as these where people are hoping their partner can read their mind. This client had been waiting years for something to change without doing anything that would cause change. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just communicate what you’re feeling? Who knows if her husband would then help with the laundry, but at least she would know that he knew it bothered her.

When you decide to communicate something that is bothering you with your partner, remember you must try your best not to come off as aggressive/judgmental, as their first response will be to go on the defense, put up their walls, and then aren’t able to hear you.

So try this formula:

When _____ happens, I feel ______. It would help if you _________.

For my aforementioned client, it might look like:

When the laundry piles up, I feel overwhelmed and like everyone is waiting on me to do it. It would help if you could help with the laundry when you notice it hasn’t been done.

Notice the difference between a more aggressive way of saying this:

You never help around the house. I am a maid around here, and I already have so much going on! Why can’t you ever do the laundry? You’re so selfish!

The second version went to extremes (“never”), was judgmental (“You’re so selfish”), and didn’t communicate how she was feeling or a plan of how to help. The husband is likely to be very guarded and respond in a similar manner–aggressive.

To summarize:

-Compliment your partner on the things you love about them. You can’t compliment too much!

-Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Let them know what is bothering you, how it makes you feel, and how they can help.

I hope this is helpful! If you feel like you need a bit more professional help communicating with your partner, reach out to a therapist. You’re investing in your relationship and your communication skills!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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Why can’t we be friends?

Quite often, I have clients that are having a hard time finding friends. This is often the reason why they have moved from trying to find informal emotional help (talking with friends and family) to formal help (me! a counselor). A good side effect of this is that my clients have started the journey of taking care of their mental health. But, a part of overall wellness is social wellness, and I want to help my clients achieve this too.

Especially as we enter our adult lives, it seems our chances to meet new people become limited. In this social-media driven world, many of us are becoming more accustomed to speaking with people online, which makes us more nervous to talk to people in person. It starts to feel weird because we’re out of practice. When you’re in a public place, you might feel the need to be looking at your phone so you don’t feel awkward. And if you can get yourself to put it down, you might notice that everyone around you had the same urge.

But how do we expect to meet new people if we never put ourselves out there? If we never start our first conversation with someone new, we can never develop it into a real friendship. But how can we do this if we don’t trust other people? Many of us (especially young women) have been warned not to trust the people who seem to be offering help, because they could have bad intentions (example: someone offers you a ride when you’re walking in the rain). But if we see everyone through this protective/paranoid lens, how will we give anyone a real chance? I don’t mean to say let your guard completely down. It is important to stay safe. But I would ask you to consider the trust you give to your Uber/Lyft drivers, think of what keeps you comfortable in those situations, and see how you can translate that into your outside life.

Many of us feel more comfortable starting with people we see more often. For example, coworkers at the office, other teammates on a sports-team/intramural, other members of a club. If we see them more often, we begin to trust them (same thinking that goes into advertising all over the place-the more you see it the more you trust it!). So think of the places you go often, or places you would like to go often (read HERE for what I think is an important first step to making friends), and how you could challenge yourself to reach out to others with similar interests.

For those of you who also are struggling with a mental illness, another safe bet is support groups. These are places where you have people struggling with many of the same things as you, and it’s a safe place to express your feelings without the fear that others will judge you or feel like you’re talking about something uncomfortable. In sharing these intimate parts of yourself, you might find yourself forming deep relationships with the other members.

Here are some examples of mental health support groups:

  • re:MIND (Formerly DBSA): Depression/Bipolar Support
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): a larger organization with more broad groups
  • Psychology Today: Where you can find groups put on by private therapists, usually at a cost compared to the former two usually being free, but are usually more specific groups and don’t always require a diagnosis. (Click “Find a therapist” and change the “therapist” field to “support groups”)
  • And of course there area always the addiction groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon (for family/friends of alcoholics). There are groups for almost every type of addiction, but they might not be in your area. They have pretty similar discussions, if you just switch “alcohol” with whatever your addiction might be.

Meeting new friends is all about getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. There are more challenging ways and some more comforting. Try what you can, but before you do, read about the importance of dating yourself before making new friendly or romantic relationships.

Your listening ear,

Monique

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A New Way to DIY-Date Yourself!

DIY is all-the-trend now-a-days, but I challenge you to take it to an entirely different level. Although our society can be very independent compared to more eastern cultures, we have become very dependent on others to make ourselves happy. There is an ideal of being in a loving romantic relationship and also having a great friend group. These things are wonderful, but people without either one or both of these ideals feel incomplete. But what if you could learn to find happiness on your own? This self-sufficiency can help you feel more confident, and ready to take on the world!

I’ve mentioned it before, but imagine the urge you feel to look at your phone when you’re out in public. I think part of this is us thinking that we have to look like we’re not alone. Like we have a world of people to talk with on our phone, and we’re not the lonely people sitting in the restaurant by ourselves, or in the waiting room alone. But what if we felt comfortable with our own company? Would we look crazy or happy?

What are the things you’ve been waiting on others to be interested in to give yourself permission to do? What kinds of things have you been wanting to try but it is out of your comfort zone and you’ve been waiting for some support? Going to the museum? Riding horses for the first time? Exploring your city? Sitting in nature? Volunteering at the local animal shelter? Trying out yoga or a new exercise? Starting a new project?

All these things you might love but never allow yourself to do! But all this time it has been in your control, if you would just push yourself out of your comfort zone. And how funny it is that we aren’t comfortable with just being with ourselves. But when you can get there, when you love being with yourself, the pressure to find someone else to make you happy decreases. It becomes more natural and less forced to form relationships, and you will find that the quality of your relationships will improve.

What do you want to DIY?!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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Enigma of a Stigma

Merriam-Webster defines enigma as “something hard to understand or explain” and stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit.” I believe therapy’s stigma is quite the enigma. For some reason, mental healthcare is quite taboo and carries a burden of shame. Unfortunately, I often hear mental health professionals speak with discomfort when they admit (as if it was something to hide) they themselves have therapists. You would hope that we, who tell others it is okay to seek therapy, would feel comfortable “coming-out” as a client. I hope it is clear by now that I think EVERYONE can benefit from some therapy every-once-and-a-while, especially those who are therapists themselves. Most graduate counseling programs require their students attend counseling, if not they suggest it. It is understood that there is a benefit to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the couch. Besides this, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t had a goal they are working towards that could benefit from an outside, unbiased listening ear. Actually, I have met people without goals, and those are usually hopeless, depressed individuals who have given up on the possibility of something better. I’m here to tell you that there is always room for improvement! I find it very confusing why someone choosing to work towards their goals and be happy should need to feel embarrassed for doing such a thing.

So WHY does this stigma exist? I believe it is related to this (incorrect) idea that counseling is only for “crazy” people (something I dive further into in this post). People believe clients must be “psychotic” (another definition which people also have the wrong idea about). But beyond this, I think counseling has evolved over the years. I think counselors have begun to think more systematically, realizing that there are a multitude of reasons someone behaves or feels the way they do, such as relationships with friends, family, or their environment. It is for this reason that I believe people have realized that not only “sick” people can benefit from therapy. However, because people are not willing to divulge that they go to counseling, the Hollywood and old-time version of counseling remains in people’s minds.

Every time that a celebrity or well-known person admits that they put an effort into taking care of their mental health, I believe the stigma gets chipped away at a little bit more. Most of the time, these admittances are also accompanied by the divulgence of a diagnosis, such as Bipolar Disorder (Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato, Pete Wentz, Catherine Zeta-Jones), PTSD (Elle King, Lady Gaga) or Anxiety (Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Bella Hadid, Gina Rodriguez, Kendall Jenner, Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian West), Obessive-Compulsive Disorder (Camila Cabello, Amanda Seyfried), Borderline Personality Disorder (Pete Davidson), Substance Use Disorders (James Franco), Postpartum Depression (Chrissy Tiegen, Hayden Panatierre, Brooke Shields), Depression (Naomi Judd, Miranda Kerr, Kid Cudi, Jon Hamm, J.K. Rowling, Wayne Brady) and many more. Because of the stigma that surrounds these diagnoses, it takes courage to admit that you have been labeled with one. But, each time someone does, it feels just a little better for those average joe’s and jane’s that also have that diagnosis. They feel a little bit less crazy. It is for this reason that I do not want to belittle these steps towards de-stigmatizing. However, I do feel it is important to point out that you do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to attend therapy. I also feel the need to highlight that there are some “disorders” that have been more socially acceptable in the recent years, such as anxiety and depression, which is why you might see more celebrity names near those diagnoses. Unfortunately, others such as schizophrenia still carry many misconceptions that bring fear and stigma.

I could go on forever about this, but I would just like to thank anyone out there who has been honest and open about their mental health care. It is responsible, good for you, and nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you for trying to be happy!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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How do Choice Theory & Reality Therapy Work?

“Blog article on choice theory & reality therapy” for Adam Rahman February 1, 2018

It’s a fact that people are healthier when involved in positive relationships. That said, the psychotherapeutic methods of choice theory and reality therapy teach that personal choices and behaviors influence our ability to connect with others and build meaningful relationships. Negative behaviors lead to damaged and even broken relationships. Bad choices include destructive behaviors like physical, mental and substance abuse, controlling others and even criminal activities. Counselors use choice theory and reality therapy to encourage better choices, habits and behaviors that help their clients develop happier, more fulfilling lives.

First conceptualized by the late American psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser, choice theory provides the foundation upon which reality therapy was built. Psychotherapists began seeing promising client results with reality therapy beginning in the mid-1960s. As time passed, an increasing number of counselors began incorporating reality therapy and choice theory into their counseling sessions. But how exactly do they work, and what are the potential benefits for clients? Let’s take a closer look now.

Choice Theory Starts with Our DNA

According to Dr. Glasser, our lives are based upon our behaviors; ones that for the most part we are able to control. Furthermore, every person is genetically-wired to satisfy 5 basic human needs:

  • Survival
  • Love
  • Sense of belonging
  • Power
  • Freedom & Fun

Of those, love and sense of belonging are the most influential. Dr. Glasser postulated that there are seven caring habits that we all share: supporting, trusting, encouraging, listening to, accepting, respecting and being able to negotiate differences with, others. Juxtaposed with those are a like number of negative, or “deadly”, habits. Those include criticizing, blaming, complaining to/about, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing/rewarding to control, others.

Negative habits damage relationships. Those eventually lead to disconnecting from someone in your life, and possibly from people in general. When an individual feels disconnected, or that they don’t belong in relationships, destructive behaviors can follow, such as crime, violence, mental illness, addictions, spousal and child abuse, poor job and school performance, and more. Helping a client identify bad habits, while equipping them to positively control their behaviors and improve their ability to cultivate relationships, is the key to choice theory. Reality therapy is the clinical method used to get there.

How can Reality Therapy Help Clients?

Reality therapy teaches that most of life’s problems stem from an inability to connect with others and build positive relationships. Counselors that practice reality therapy methods focus on these key points when working with clients:

  • Human problems come from unfulfilled interpersonal relationships. Clients are urged to forget about their past and instead concentrate on the present.
  • Avoid using excuses for behaviors and ignore symptoms and complaints as much as possible.
  • Concentrate on negative behaviors, and how those can be changed. Clients are encouraged to express what they think and believe. Discussing how to change one’s feelings, mental and physical well-being- all by focusing upon things within a client’s control- is important.
  • Clients develop skills to avoid blaming, criticizing or complaining in their relationships.
  • Clients are encouraged to be non-judgmental and non-coercive, while choosing better behaviors to promote healthy relationships. This important concept originates from choice theory.
  • Clients are taught to avoid excuses that interfere with their ability to enjoy positive relationships.
  • Specific relationship issues are identified. What people in the client’s life are involved, and how can they reconnect with them using positive behaviors? If a given relationship is damaged permanently, the client is encouraged to cultivate new ones.
  • Clients learn to formulate a series of doable action plans in the event one falls short. Progress and success are discussed.

During reality therapy sessions, it is of the utmost importance that both counselor and client practice a high level of patience. For most people that are having relationship problems it took a while to develop their negative habits. As a result, the road to happiness requires time spent and hard work, but the rewards are truly unlimited for both client and counselor.

Help is Only a Phone Call Away!Are you having trouble connecting with others and building healthy relationships? Are you making bad choices and using destructive habits? If you’re ready to make a change, help is only a phone call away. The Social House Wellness Center in Houston provides clients with the counseling they need in order to turn their lives around. Led by Clinical Director Adam Rahman, the staff at Social House specializes in choice theory and reality therapy counseling methods. To learn more call us at: 210-816-2992 or visit www.socialhousewc.com now.

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