Have you been wanting to come to couples counseling for months, even years, but haven’t yet made the appointment? If so, you are not alone. Many couples try to work out their problems on their own, often resulting in painful arguments and frustrating stalemates. Other couples take what seems like the path of least resistance: ignoring their problems and living like strangers under the same roof. This “blinders on” approach may reduce conflict initially, but underneath the surface, tensions are mounting. So, what is stopping some of these once-happy couples from seeking help with their relationship? Worrying about being labeled “the bad partner” can be a barrier.
No one wants to feel shamed. And why should they? If a member of a couple is afraid of being singled out as solely responsible for the conflict, of course they would be resistant to counseling. Let’s acknowledge that couples are a system. Even if the presenting issue is infidelity, for example, it did not occur in a vacuum. This does not mean that breaking the agreed-to relationship rules is okay, or that the non-adulterous partner is to blame. What it does mean, however, is that the couples session is a blame-free zone, and a place to focus on how to strengthen the relationship. Ideally, the therapist creates a safe space for the couple to share their feelings with each other, exploring together what went awry, how and if trust can be re-established, and ways to eventually move forward. Judgment (on the part of the therapist) has no place in couples counseling. No sides are taken. The spotlight shines on how to improve communication and the dynamics of the relationship.
If worry over being labeled “the problem one” in a relationship has been keeping you from seeking help, don’t allow it to be a barrier any longer. Asking for support in improving your relationship skills takes courage and shows your commitment to making things between the two of you even better. Call me at 949-648-7991 to schedule an appointment now and get started on getting back that strong connection with your partner.
It’s that time of year again. Graduation time. The greeting card section at your local drugstore is overflowing with ways to express congratulations to that soon-to-be graduate. But this year it’s different. This year, it’s your child that’s the one going out in the world, flying the coop, embarking on a new path.
It’s a hopeful time, a time of new beginnings. So, amidst this joy, why is there a nagging sense of sadness? Isn’t this the natural order of things? Shouldn’t we be happy to see our children grow and leave home to start their own lives?
If this ambivalence sounds familiar, don’t worry. It’s natural to feel conflicted. On one hand, you’re proud of having successfully shepherded this young adult to become the person they are. But their impending departure means that things are changing. Your role as a parent is shifting. What this signals is an adjustment in the way you see your relationship, not only with your child, but also with yourself. It’s not uncommon for parents to use the term “grieving” to describe how it feels when their child moves out.
Here are seven tips to help cope with the empty nest transition:
1. Ask yourself: “How much of my identity revolves around being a parent?” Follow that up with the question: “What are some parts of myself that are independent from my being a parent?” Writing down your answers in a journal can help you sift through difficult emotions and aid in self-exploration.
3. Be patient with yourself. Life transitions take time. Acknowledge and validate your feelings. Since the “launch” of a child into adulthood is the expected course, some friends may not empathize with your complex feelings. Seek out others who have been in this situation and understand what you’re going through.
4. Take stock of the context of this transition. Are there any other big changes in your life that are happening now? Menopause? Retirement? Aging parents that are requiring your attention? Additional losses can compound our already raw feelings and lead us to feel overwhelmed.
5. Set achievable goals and create a plan of action. What did you always promise yourself you’d do once the kids were out of the house? Dust off those dreams and take small steps towards achieving them.
6. Hold off on making any big decisions. Now may not be the time to spontaneously quit your job or sell the house on a whim. Wait until you are on a more even keel to decide on whether or not to make big shifts.
6. If you are married or have a partner, redefine your relationship with your significant other. Can you allow yourself to imagine that this might be the most fulfilling time yet? Share your feelings with your partner, and, together, create a vision of how you two can focus on enhancing your relationship.
7. If you feel overwhelmed and would benefit from some additional support, consider counseling. While this may be a time of jumbled emotion, there is hope that you’ll make it through this transition and even thrive.
Marnee Reiley is a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern (IMF 61489) who brings empathy, humor, and warmth to her collaborative work with couples and individual therapy clients in Orange County. Marnee is certified in Grief and Bereavement Counseling and is honored to support clients through times of adjustment to change and life transitions. Marnee can be reached at 949-222-6681 or YourOCTherapist@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @YourOCTherapist. For more information, please visit YourOCTherapist.com. Supervised at Journey Coaching and Counseling Services by Dr. Paul True, MFC 42710.
When discussing bereavement and loss with colleagues the other day, I learned of a Bill of Rights for those in grief. I thought that it was a wonderful way to give ourselves "permission" to grieve and to acknowledge our feelings in times of loss, be it from a death or another loss such as divorce, illness, or other life transition. I share it here with you in the hopes that you'll find it meaningful as well. Is there anything you would add to it? I invite you to add your comments below.
The Grieving Person's Bill of Rights
by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD
Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Ft. Collins, Colorado
- Experience your own unique grief. No one will grieve the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t let them tell you how you should be feeling.
- Talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will let you talk as much as you want, as often as you want.
- Feel a multitude of emotions. You will feel many emotions during your grief journey. Some may tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
- Be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness can fatigue you. Respect what your body and mind tell you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into activities you’re not ready for.
- Experience grief “attacks”. Sometimes, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but it is normal. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
- Make use of ritual. Rituals do more than acknowledge the death of someone. They provide you with support from caring people, as well as a way to mourn.
- Embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it. Be with people who understand and support your religious beliefs.
- Search for meaning. You may ask, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some questions may have answers, others don’t. Watch for clichéd responses people may give you, like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for”. These sentiments are not helpful, and you do not have to agree with them.
- Treasure your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a loved one. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
- Move toward your grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient with yourself, and avoid people who are impatient with you. Neither you nor those around you should forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
When we commit to being with another person, be it my marriage, having children, or another type of ceremony, we expect to be together forever. Unfortunately, half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. If you are going through this painful life transition, there are steps that you can take to make the process a little easier.
Prioritize self-care. Divorce and separation are difficult losses and create great amounts of stress on your body and mind. Schedule daily exercise, eat well, and get plenty of sleep to keep yourself healthy.
Be patient with your friends. With divorce and separation, friendships are altered. Some friends feel that they need to “pick a side” of the couple. Try to tap into your patience and empathy…your breakup is likely tough on your friends as well.
Protect your kids. If you and your partner have children together, do your best to decrease their exposure to your conflict. Watch your language when speaking of your ex so that your kids don’t hear hurtful and damaging messages about the other parent.
Seek support. Connect with others who can relate to what you’re going through. Make sure to find positive, uplifting people who can shore you up through this transition. Support groups and individual counseling or therapy can be other places to find help.
Divorce and separation are often rife with difficult emotions. This list of suggestions, while not comprehensive, is a place to start.