Innovation360-Dallas

Are you too Emotionally Involved as a Parent?

If your child is anxious do you find yourself anxious too? Do you get wrapped up in trying fix it, experiencing the same emotion until their emotion changes?  And then move onto their next emotion? It’s a roller coaster ride that you don’t want to be on – nor does your child need you to be.

If you generally feel as if whatever happens to your child has happened to you, this could indicate enmeshment, an unhealthy emotional relationship. This often takes place when a parent is so empathetic that it turns into crossed personal boundaries that are permeable and unclear. One consequence of this is that it prohibits the child from maturing emotionally and becoming independent. What can be a good thing quickly becomes “too much of a good thing” and ends up being harmful.

When a child is experiencing a difficult emotion, they simply need support and a healthy dose of empathy.  If the parent takes on the emotion themselves and is overly involved, it can put the child in an obligatory position to extend comfort to the parent.  It can create an emotionally unsafe and unstable environment for the child.  And it will stunt their growth. Children need their parents as a resource for emotional stability and security.  If they feel responsible for their parents well being then they cannot become developmentally independent and responsible for their own choices.

Parenting requires a fine balance of being emotionally empathetic, yet not enmeshed.  This is not the only type of relationship in which enmeshment takes place. It can happen in any relationship: Romantic, friendships, etc. Sometimes it takes the lens of a third party to help identify where the enmeshment begins and ends.  Innovation360 frequently helps families identify areas of unhealthy relational habits such as enmeshment and guides them in transforming those relationships into healthy interactions. This leads to better dynamics and more rewarding relationships.

Reach out to us for more information on how we can come alongside your family to help you go down the path towards a more fulfilling, healthier life.

Written by Jennifer Updike, Advocate Coordinator at i360

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Have you ever said to a loved one, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t keep drinking so much?” Or, “If you loved us, you would stop taking those pills like you do.”

When someone we love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it is very difficult to understand how they could keep doing the hurtful things they do. But oftentimes we don’t even realize that the challenging, unloving behavior is directly connected to addiction. We may be in a state of denial and unaware of the drug and/or alcohol use, so the hurtful behavior translates to “they must not love me”. When we do realize that our loved one acts very differently when using substances, we can’t help but think that surely if they loved us, they would stop. When they don’t,  even after promising to stop multiple times, we simply feel that we are unloved and it is extremely hurtful.

As a counselor, I worked with young children of alcoholics/addicts for many years. Children often expressed that their mom, dad or sibling must not love them because of the mean things they said or did. The Betty Ford Five Star Kids Program which i360 hosts helps the children learn that love doesn’t have anything to do with it. Addiction is a disease. And through this program, the children’s staff use a clever story to help get this point across.

“There is a mama bear living in the woods with her cubs. They are getting really hungry, so she goes out of their den to find food for them. As she looks for berries and other bear food, she sees something silver shining through some leaves on the ground. She has heard stories about the silver thing and was always told to stay away, but she is so curious. She approaches it and paws at it. Nothing happens. She paws at it again, and WHAM!! Giant, sharp teeth tear into her leg and the mama bear howls in pain! What was it? A bear trap! ‘Kids, when the mama bear got trapped, was she thinking about her cubs? NO! All she could think about was the pain and how to get out of it. But, did she still love her cubs? Of course she did! When your parents get trapped by addiction, they still love you very much, but they are totally focused on the trap and how to feel better and get away from it. When she finally yells HELP, someone comes to help her get free, but she has to ask for help first.”

The children seem to grasp this concept and feel relieved when they hear this story, along with all of the other wonderful education and support they receive in the program. The children leave the program with a reduction in the shame they’ve carried and an understanding that addiction is a disease, and most importantly,that it is not the child’s fault.

Innovation360 hosts this amazing program quarterly and any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who loves someone who drinks too much or takes drugs qualifies. It is non-profit, so scholarships are available if the $400.00 fee is unaffordable. You can reach the program by calling 972-753-0552 or by going to www.fivestarkids.com.

The symptoms of addiction are lying, manipulating, denying, blaming, minimizing, projecting, etc. So, yes, it is very difficult not to take our loved one’s actions personally. The best thing family members can do is to get their own support and education about addiction. Innovation360 offers a parent support, counseling, Healing Starts at Home family program, and other services. These programs help reinforce the message that the addict or alcoholic cannot show consistent love when in the grasp of the disease. If they receive help and find recovery, it often becomes clear that they still love you as they learn to love themselves again.

Blog written by Pam Newton, M.S., LCDC – Newton@i360life.com

 

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Tell me a Story…

Tell Me A Story: The importance of saying YES! to your gifts…

Most nights, my daughter’s bedtime routine involves me telling her a story.  Lauren has very specific rules: the characters have to be “make believe” (no one you could meet in real life); the story can’t be a re-iteration of one she has heard before (no re-telling of Snow White cast in modern day times, for example); all the characters have to have actual names; and the story has to have a crisis or conflict that then is resolved.  Story time with her is a true test of my creativity!  I cherish these times of closeness, where she is tuned in and focused on my voice.  We lie side by side in her bed with the lights already out, and she is caressing her soft stuffed cat that’s been her “lovie” since birth.  My daughter’s responses to the stories always amuse me.  She will point out what she believes to be a character’s bad decision or a good choice. She will correct me if I get the names wrong.  She gets most upset if the story doesn’t have any real dilemma, drama, or conflict.  If that is the case, she will demand that I start over and re-tell the story to include a problem.  She is vocal in telling me that a story without a problem is “boring” and to her, it just doesn’t make sense.

The construct of a story speaks to us and moves us in ways that other forms of communication do not.  Because stories told to us aloud engage all of our senses, memory and emotions, they have power like no other means to affect not just our intellect, but our hearts as well.  Narrative Therapy helps capture that same power of story telling in order to create lasting change within us.  Over the years of working with families in therapy, I have become so encouraged by hearing each family’s unique story of strength, growth and resiliency.  When reflecting on how the family’s story has developed, I find that the crisis that has encouraged the family to seek treatment is similar to the crisis or conflict that Lauren longs for me to include in the stories that I tell her.  Over the years, I began to see a pattern of how families endure stressful times, and even grow closer together through them by being able to “make up” the story as they go…to improvise.  In fact, flexibility is one of the most important attributes of families who are resilient.

Improvising, however, is not just haphazardly and frantically trying different things to see what works. Beneficial improvising actually has a structure that facilitates its effectiveness.  I have learned more about the principles of effective improvising as I’ve participated in a local Improv Comedy class.  “Saying yes to the gifts” is one of the features of effective improvising.  Seeing obstacles, difficulties, and problems as gifts to be received and understood is an empowering perspective.  The alternative is to view distressing events either negatively or with apathy, both of which are draining to our energy and ineffective in helping us cope.  Negativity or apathy keeps the story “stuck”; nothing different happens.  Worse yet, it can add to the distress already being experienced.  So through principles of improve therapy, we want to help families understand the “bigger picture” of their story and how the current crisis can be used as a gift to help direct the next chapter of the story to a place of growth, deeper involvement in life, greater engagement with one another, and more meaningful discoveries about themselves as individuals and about their purpose as a family.  This is no easy task as it means respecting and deeply empathize with the pain and distress they are feeling, while at the same time, opening their eyes to the possibility of a crisis as a gift.  The pain deserves respect, yet it doesn’t have to be in charge of what happens next.

Going through this process with one family I worked with led them to a deeper commitment to change.  The family had been struggling with multiple addictions, trauma, conflict, and poor boundaries. A series of events resulted in their 14 year old son violating probation, which resulted in him being court ordered to Residential Treatment.  As the mother struggled through her sadness, guilt, pain and thoughts of “I must be a horrible mother for this to have happened”, we explored how her son being away from home might be a gift.  I will never forget her enthusiasm as she experienced the shift in perspective right in front of me.  She suddenly sat up straight, raised her voice, and exclaimed, “Actually, him going away has been a gift because it helped me see how unhealthy our relationship was!  So in a weird way, even his getting into trouble was a gift for us as parents!”  Because she was able to view the story in this way, she became more committed to working through relationship and parenting issues with her husband while her son was away, and continued to be committed to healthier relationship boundaries and coping mechanisms when he returned home.

To respectfully identify the “gift” of struggle and pain, the following questions can be helpful:

1)     How could this experience bring our family closer together?  How has it already?

2)     How could this experience help us learn more about ourselves?  How has it already?

3)     What is our family’s identity and what values do we find important?  How do those values shape how we want to respond to this struggle?

4)     What strengths have we used in the past that have helped us face struggles?

5)     What unique strengths does our family possess that are required to face this struggle?

6)     How could this struggle help us in areas that we may need to grow?

7)     What is the gift our family brings to others (our extended family, neighborhood, community and the larger world)? And how can this struggle help us extend the gift to others?

8)     How do we want to define the meaning of this struggle for us?

When families decide together how they want to define the pain and how they want the next chapter of the story to go, the motivation and energy they can then generate is astounding!!  And just as Lauren finds it satisfying when the crisis is resolved in the story, I am so encouraged when families begin to generate their own solutions and begin to see themselves as struggling towards growth, rather than just struggling.  Being able to use creative interventions to help families see the story more clearly, even working with families in their home, where they are most comfortable, has been an exciting new frontier for me. I am honored and encouraged as I see families face amazing challenges and rise above them, as they write new stories of healing, hope and strength.

Written by Stephanie Coker, LCSW

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Our Best Communication Tips for Couples

 “Communication can be clear or vague, open or guarded, honest or dishonest – it can even be spoken or unspoken – but there is no such thing as “non-communication!”  In fact, virtually everything we do in the company of others communicates something. Our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and level of interest (or disinterest) all communicate something to the perceptive listener. In order to communication effectively and get our needs met we need to engage in both parts of the communication process: expressing ourselves and listening.” -Penny Foreman, LCSW
Tips For Communicating Well

 

In the midst of a heated argument is actually not the best time to share your concerns. You are worked up and will often say things you don’t mean. It may be best to write out your concerns in private and then share them with your spouse at a time when you feel calmer.Also consider the right time and place for communicating. It’s important to make sure you have enough time and minimal distractions to talk through everything – so don’t mention that you aren’t happy with your husbands parenting techniques or that you are “feeling lonely in this marriage” as you are rushing out the door for work…Steer clear of bringing up heavy topics when you are tired or hungry – that is a lose lose situation!

 

Don’t be mean or try to figure out who is at fault!  State your feelings honestly without being sarcastic or insulting to the other person.   Think about the impact of your words before you speak.  It is more important to talk about what you both need to do to solve the problem, rather than assign blame.

 

Stick to the issue on the table.  Don’t bring out the bag of past grievances and dump it on the table.

 

No name-calling, such as: “You are such a jerk!”  Avoid verbally abusing people.  Refrain from insults, put-downs, and expressions of disgust.

 

Don’t mind-read. If you don’t know how your partner feels or thinks, then ASK.

 

Incorporate positive statements and compliments along with your complaints.  This will soften the blow of any complaints or concerns and make your partner less defensive.

 

Remember you only have control over changing yourself, not others. You don’t have to wait for your partner to change.  You can go first!

 

Leave others out. Don’t bring other people into the discussion, such as:  “Even your brother thinks you are selfish!”

 

Avoid starting a sentence with “you”.  It sounds like an accusation or an invitation to fight (which it usually is!).  Stick to “I” statements.  Try the XYZ model for this type of communication:

  • I feel X
  • when you do Y
  • in situation Z
  • For example:  “I feel hurt when you criticize me when we are with our friends.”

 

To become a more effective listener, try some of these techniques:

 

Listen…don’t talk!  Be quick to listen and slowwwww to speak. Don’t interrupt mid-sentence. And listen to understand, rather than spending the time preparing for your defense.

 

Try to empathize.  Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes as you listen.

 

Think before you say anything in response, especially if you are having a strong emotional response.

Remember feelings are neither right nor wrong.  Your partner is the expert on his or her feelings and those feelings are their present reality. Feelings are not facts, but they are essential in understanding why your partner is responding to you in certain ways. You can spend a lot of time arguing about the facts and completely discount your partner’s feelings

 

Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues (both your own and your partner’s).  These include shrugging your shoulders, your tone of voice, crossing your arms, nodding, avoidance of eye contact, rolling your eyes, facial expressions, etc.

 

When responding, let your partner know that you heard what he or she said by using a feedback technique and restating what you heard.  Say something like “I think what you said was…” or “Do you mean that…”or “I understood you to say….”.

 

Listening and responding with concern and understanding of your partner’s feelings is often all she or he may need from you.

 

Don’t give advice unless asked for it, but be prepared to do some problem solving, if that is what your partner requests.

 

Most importantly, remember that all couples have their share of problems.  You are not always going to see eye-to-eye on things, but if you know how to communicate effectively, with kindness and respect, you can get through disagreements with positive outcomes and the love intact!

 

Written by Lauren Barnett, Director of Marketing

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5 Ways to Effectively Address Conflict

Recently, one of our clients (we’ll call him Jeff) had the opportunity to address a conflict with a friend of his. Jeff completely disagreed with the way his buddy was handling a situation.  But rather than speaking directly to his friend, Jeff gathered 4 other buddies who agreed with Jeff that his way was the better way. Together they confronted Jeff’s friend—guns blazing. When his friend became defensive and rejected their intervention, Jeff was bewildered and grew angry, swearing that the friendship was over.

As this example shows, conflict is a reality in our relationships. It’s inevitable. We face conflict daily, from a disagreement with a co-worker or boss, to an argument with a friend or spouse. There is plenty of day-to-day tug of war happening around us. We are imperfect people, living in a world where much is out of our control. If you are like me, sometimes you do not handle conflict well… okay, I’ll be honest; it’s most of the time.

So, how do we effectively address conflict in a way that the other person will be receptive, promote understanding and resolution of the issue, and foster a closer connection? The following is a list of 5 things that may help positively change your approach to conflict so that it is fruitful:

1. Explore Your Family of Origin – Think back to your childhood for a minute. How did your family deal with conflict? Did your father, mother and sibling(s) tend to avoid it, address it through a third-person, or address the issue with the person directly? And, how did they engage? Did they wait until emotions calmed and approached you gently, or was their an immediate reaction and accusatory approach? Did family members tend to “bottle it up” until a seemingly tiny incident totally set them off? Who can you relate to the most? Chances are, after answering these questions you will begin to see consistent relational patterns. Exploring this may give you valuable insight into how you currently view and engage in conflict.

2. Take a Personal Inventory – Now, here comes the hard part. Time to focus on you. Ask, “How do I respond to conflict?” When someone hurts you, how do you initially react? What is your typical coping mechanism or way of managing painful emotions? How do you work through the issue with loved ones, with classmates or colleagues at work? When you hurt someone, how do you initially react when they approach you to talk about it? How do you typically work through the issue with them? There are many questions here, but I encourage you to take your time and write down your answers. You may be surprised at what you discover.

3. Take Personal Responsibility – Ultimately, you cannot change other people. You can only be open to change yourself. When you focus on someone or something that is out of your control, you feel powerless. By focusing the conversation on what the other person is doing wrong, you will likely elicit a defensive response. However, when you switch your focus to yourself and what is in your realm of responsibility, you will feel more at peace. By focusing the conversation on what you are responsible for, your own thoughts, emotions, and actions, you will likely elicit a receptive response. You are responsible for yourself first.

4. Identify and Communicate Your Thoughts and Emotions – When you can differentiate between your thoughts and emotions during a conflict, you are less likely to be influenced by your emotions in the moment, and more likely to calm your emotions in order to think and effectively work through the situation with the other person. This is not easy—for anyone. It takes practice to develop this skill. One way to practice is to track the major events (good or bad) of the day, listing them in a journal. Thinking back to a specific event, describe your thoughts (message you received from the other person’s actions) before, during and after the event. Next, your emotions (e.g. excitement, joy, fear) before, during, and after. Finally, your actions before, during, and after. The tracking may look like this:

Event

Thoughts

Emotions

Actions

1.
2.

 

As you practice this skill of differentiating, you will recognize your patterns of relating. Once you can identify your thoughts and emotions in the moment, you can communicate them to the other person. Here is a simple but useful way to address the issue with another:

“When you do ___________ I think it means (your thought) and I feel (your emotion), so I’m asking you to do ___________, and/or I’m going to __________.”

The idea is to practice deliberately separating emotions vs. thoughts so you can more clearly communicate.

5. Set Clear Boundaries – In times that you have been hurt, or even when you have hurt another, setting a clear boundary is of paramount importance. The last two blanks above are an example of setting a boundary. Boundaries help protect yourself and others, while making it easier to enjoy the relationship. So how do you know what is in your control, and what is not, in order to set a boundary? Your relationship with God can provide the answer to such a difficult question. When trusting and yielding to His will, you may find that you will learn more about yourself, and He will teach and guide you through a situation. The serenity prayer speaks to this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” In addition, you may seek wise counsel from a family member, close friend, minister or mentor. This person can provide much needed guidance on what course you can take.

Now this is not meant to replace the need and benefit that can come from talking to an objective therapist about more complicated or painful issues that arise in life. It is also not meant to apply to circumstances such as abuse or neglect. If this ever occurs, please contact the authorities or an outside third party that can provide immediate help.

Here at i360, we believe change occurs in the context of relationships. We offer a variety of ways to address the conflict in our lives that so often plague us. Our various support, process groups, and counseling opportunities provide a safe environment, and help mimic a real world experience that allows clients to experiment with new behaviors, learn how a variety of people perceive them, and explore different styles of relating. The groups and workshops we offer provide a great opportunity to place the client directly in a community of a diverse group of people. Here, not only do clients learn how to meet their therapeutic goals together, but they also learn how to address conflict in different, more effective ways so that they can carry these skills forward into future relationships—and ultimately live more satisfying and fulfilling lives.

Written by Mitch Isle, LPC & Client Advocate

Resources:

  • Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta M. Gilbert
  • Understanding Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
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Fighting Fair: 10 Tips for Couples

Whether you have been married for 30 years or in a serious relationship for 3 months, conflict is difficult.  Many of us were raised without role models or even a template for “fighting” with our significant other. Many of us grew up with parents who brushed everything under the rug or punished each other with silence.  Some of us experienced the opposite:  yelling, blaming, shaming, all with no resolution.  When it comes to arguing though, it is a good idea to have some rules in place, and to establish and agree upon them before those arguments even occur.  This can help you come to an agreement more quickly and avoid unnecessary hurt feelings and resentments.  Listed below are some good rules to discuss.  If these don’t fit your “coupleship,” find some others that do.

1.  No blaming.  It distracts you from the problem at hand and illicits defensiveness from your mate.  “It’s your fault I come home late because I don’t want to come home to your bad mood.”

2.  Never start your sentences with “You.”    The other person is automatically on the defensive.  You will benefit greatly by starting your sentence with the word, “I.”   i.e., “I feel so angry when you stay out late and don’t call.”  “I feel so scared when you drink and drive.”

3.   No name calling or degrading language.  When you intentionally verbally injure your partner, you are telling them they are not safe with you.  Sports have rules to prevent injury.  So should marriage and relationships.

4. Never use the word always.  No one ever does anything every time and always. These statements are too eternal.  “You always forget our anniversary!”

5. No yelling.  Couples have different definitions of yelling based upon their own family. If your spouse experiences your statements as yelling, then it is indeed yelling.  Perception is everything when it comes to arguing. Be aware of the volume of your voice.

6.   No use of force.  Pushing, shoving, cornering, and certainly hitting or slapping is completely and totally unacceptable and against the law.  Do not let anger take over and spiral into violence.

7.   No talk of divorce or splitting up.  In an argument, talk of divorce or leaving is usually manipulative.   It can quickly erode your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship and truly leave deep scars.

8.  No walking out or leaving.  When necessary, use time-outs.  It can give you much needed perspective.  “I am not leaving, but I need 10 minutes to calm down.” Don’t just get up and disappear.

9.  Stay in the present.  Do not drag events of the past into the present.  Resist the urge to use this occasion to bring up other issues from the past.  We can’t change the past; only the present.

10.  Take turns speaking.  Let one person speak at a time.  When one is speaking, the other should be listening…really listening.  Avoid the urge to be planning your rebuttal.

Also keep in mind, It is never good to argue at the end of the day when both of you are tired.  Similarly, it doesn’t work to argue on an empty stomach.  Definitely, do not argue when one or both of you have been drinking alcohol.

It is hard not to try to win an argument.  Many times we just want to be right and we can spend endless hours and emotions trying to accomplish this.  It does not solve anything and creates more distance in the relationship. When arguing within a relationship, consider this theme: “You don’t win, I don’t win….We win.” It’s not all about winning or being right. Sometimes working so hard to ‘win’ can damage the relationship beyond repair, and then you both lose. If you and your loved one are struggling and seem to argue frequently with no resolutions, you may want to consider your own “fair fighting” rules.  If you feel that you need help with this, contact a therapist who specializes in couples’ counseling.   It truly helps to have a safe, neutral space to solve differences and to have an objectives party assist you in processing the issue.

Blog written by Pam Newton, MA, LCDC. Pam provides individual and group counseling with a focus on addiction and recovery for families. Pam also spearheads educational groups for clients, families and community members focusing on the unique challenges often paired with addiction and recovery.

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What is Love?

Around Valentines Day, the word “love” gets thrown around constantly. It’s on balloons, cards, candy and flowers. While there is so much focus on the romantic and commercial idea of love, it’s helpful to look at what love actually means. The Roxbury Guys from SNL spent countless nights pondering the question, and, no doubt, many of us have as well. My experience as a counselor working with couples and families has given me some good examples of things that are and aren’t love. These are examples from romantic relationships as well as friendly and family ones. Identifying what does and doesn’t represent love will not only help us avoid some of the pitfalls, but also teach us better ways to love well.

Not Love

  • Giving in to Every Demand – This can be a tough one. It might look like love to give someone what he or she always wants, but eventually, you’ll look more like a doormat than a person. You have the right to be assertive and vocalize your requests, too.
  • Buying Gifts – I’ve worked with many families who are very well off and find it easy to give into the temptation of giving gifts instead of time. When you miss your dinner date because you instead had to work late, and you bring home flowers thinking that it portrays how much you love her, that is not love. Instead of spending your time and energy doing things, planning fun activities, or experiencing life with your family or significant other, you instead give a material gift that requires you spend money, that is not love. Don’t confuse your presence with something you can buy.
  • Sex – That’s right. Sex. You may have sex with someone you love, but just because sex happens does not mean love exists. If you’re trying to show you love someone only through sex, it’s time to get more creative.
  • Romantic Gestures – Just doing something romantic does not equate to love. Often we expect something in return for this and it can lead to resentment when we don’t receive it. Just because you are romantic does not mean you love the person, regardless of what romantic comedies tell us.
  • Flattery – Telling someone what you think they want to hear may tickle their ears, but they will start to sniff out the flattery eventually. It also comes with the added bonus of having to experience actions/words/foods you don’t enjoy because you’re not honest about your true feelings. Along Came Polly comes to mind. Ben Stiller’s character, who suffers from IBS which is set off when he eats ethnic food, continues to go with Polly to her favorite Indian restaurant and is quite miserable afterwards, hiding it though, going along with whatever she wants because “he loves her taste” in restaurants…Don’t be that person.

 

Love

  • Dedication – Love has everything to do with commitment and perseverance.  If you love someone, be willing to stick with him or her through mistakes and tough times. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, “just another shade of brown.”
  • Setting Boundaries – In contrast to being a doormat, setting boundaries with others reminds them we have self-worth. It is also a great example for them to have their own boundaries, which helps keep both individuals healthy. And to be able to better name your limits, tune into your feelings – when you feel discomfort or resentment, that is a sign that you need to set boundaries. “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.” Setting clear expectations is a display of love as you are vocalizing your needs and hearing theirs too.
  • Doing What’s Best for Them – Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is let them experience life without absorbing the blow for them. It’s hard for us to learn perseverance without struggle. Be there for them, but don’t necessarily do for them.  “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
  • Speak Truth (Out of Love)  – Tougher than it sounds. That doesn’t mean you should always say what you are thinking. Before speaking truth, ask yourself if you are doing it to help the other person or to hurt them. Sometimes saying something honestly will hurt in the short term, but help in the long term.  Before you speak, THINK. Is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind?Love is certainly more complicated than these few examples, but in this season of lovey-dovey everything, let’s keep a little perspective on what true love looks like. Love is not easy. Love is not bought. Love can’t be earned by getting run over. Love seeks the best for others, and for us. Love displays itself through healthy and well-rounded relationships.But you might still want to make sure you buy those flowers!

    Written by Michael Sweeney, LPC. If you or a loved ones is seeking therapy for your family or marital concerns, please contact us at Innovation360.

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5 Ways to Slowly Destroy Your Own Marriage

A simple list…

1. Confronting your spouse like a honey badger. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this ferocious little booger, the honey badger rushes into battles with full beehives, deadly snakes, and other various gnarly animals. The honey badger only has one goal in mind: the kill… He doesn’t have any sense of timing, tact, or gentleness. And from time to time, we all go fearless honey badger style on our spouses!

“But Doug! I never get loud or aggressive with my spouse! I never yell at my mate,” you might be saying. While I love your enthusiasm you perfect little spouse, I’d bet a large sum of money that if I were to bunk up in your house for a few weeks, I could point out passive statements and actions that have the same devastating honey badger effects.

Maybe you start confrontations with Why questions, like “Why did you do this or that?” Maybe you use passive You statements. “You are so selfish. You just don’t listen to me.” Maybe when you are with other couples, you “joke” about your spouse’s flaws or say things at home like, “You forgot to do…again.” Or, perhaps you do what my wife and I do: you send messages to one another by talking through the dogs. “Oh Johan! Mommy is being a real jerk isn’t she?” Try bringing up grievances or annoyances by clearly stating what it is you want in a gentle manner…even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.

2. Worshiping your children. While you may never say your child is your god, your actions scream it out loud. When your date nights become scarce, you only spend time with couples who have children, and your weekends are jam packed with sports, recitals, and performances…you send the message to your kids, “You are more important than your mom or dad, and I would rather keep you entertained than develop my own friendships or marriage.”

You do your children a massive disservice by leading them to believe that they are the center of the universe…because no one else outside of your family thinks they are! Children who think they are the center of your world will have trouble forming friendships, yielding to authority, holding a job, and even adapting to marriage. Your children will unsuccessfully spend their entire lives searching for people who think they are as incredibly amazing as you told them they were. They may turn to unhealthy, codependent relationships or live unsatisfied lives full of continual disappointment from never being loved the way they “deserve” to be loved.

Not only does this parenting style alienate your children, but it alienates your spouse. A daughter once asked her wise father, “Daddy, if you were in a raft and me and mommy were drowning, who would you save?” The wise father instantly replied, “Honey, not only would I swim and save your mother first, but I would make sure she was completely dry and comfy before I came back for you.”

3. Avoiding sex talks.  When sex becomes a routine A-B-C affair (I do A, you do B, and voila…we have C!), it’s time to talk about what’s getting in the way of sex being exciting, passionate and intense. Marital sex is an amazing gift. It gives us the opportunity to express our love in a physical way, connect deeply, and become vulnerable in the most intimate way possible.

We all fall into predictable routines, but it’s never OK to stay in a place of laziness and inactivity. Don’t ever buy into messages from magazines and TV shows that portray marital sex as boring, unexciting, and mundane. If your spouse and you both truly feel as though you are in the trenches, working together and connecting well outside the bedroom, then you will feel the same way inside the bedroom.

4. Choosing Facebook over your spouse. Are you tweeting, texting or on Facebook when you have a real live person in the same room? By doing so, you rob yourself of connecting with your spouse by living in digital worlds and TV shows with people who really, at the end of the day, don’t care much about you or know much about you. “Liking” or “sharing” someone’s narcissistic picture of the food they ate or the amazing place they’re “checked in” at doesn’t make them “friends.” Ditch the Facebook stalking and engage with your spouse. When is the last time you whipped out a board game, snagged some DQ Blizzards, or called up some friends for an impromptu hang out with your families? When is the last time you did something truly fun and impulsive with your spouse? If the two of you are spending your time with fake versions of real people on Facebook, you miss the real version of your real spouse in the here and now…

5. Having your emotional needs met by people other than your spouse. Very few of you will ever cheat on your spouses or even say anything inappropriate to the opposite sex. But, many of you will, at some point, miss out on valuable opportunities to connect with your spouse. Rather than turning toward your spouse and allowing them to remind you that you are beautiful and lovely in God’s eyes, you will turn to others to get the job done.

Do you find yourself putting on cologne, perfume, or a certain outfit on certain days and not others? Is there someone at work that seems to make you smile just a bit bigger? Do you find yourself mildly complaining about your spouse to a member of the opposite sex? Do you ever find yourself walking away from a conversation thinking, “That person really gets me!” or “He/she thinks I’m really funny!”

Or maybe it’s more subtle, like naturally gravitating towards certain people at church, school or work. While these interactions may seem purely innocent, always ask the question, “What am I getting from this conversation? What is this person feeding me?” While I’m not advocating that married men and women can’t have friends of the opposite sex, I do strongly advocate monitoring interactions to avoid the risk of obtaining self confidence and worth from others instead of looking towards your spouses.

Most of us have a deep seeded terror that we might not be lovable, worthy, acceptable, or “good enough.” We attempt to calm these doubtful voices by performing well at work, being good parents, drinking, exercising, or even, in this case, using others to validate ourselves.

Perhaps it feels more exciting or fulfilling in the moment. But there is nothing more fulfilling than returning home, looking deep into your spouse’s eyes, and knowing that no one else captivated your heart but them…even if you weren’t together. Move towards your spouse when they aren’t around by always pretending they are around…

If you are newly married, transitioning into a new life stage, or have been married a while but have fallen into unhealthy routines, please seek professional counseling. Counseling isn’t meant to always be a “check engine” light fix. Think of counseling more as routine maintenance. Just like an automobile, if you put the right things in your marriage, you get so much more out of it…

Written by Doug Chisholm, LPC

Innovation360-Dallas

Marriage Killers: Are You Sabotaging Your Own Marriage?

Throughout the years, my wife and I have counseled many couples who have reported feeling lonely in their marriages, desperate and confused about how to break the vicious cycle of continuing to fight over and over about the same things. Contrary to popular belief on shows like Dr. Phil and various marriage seminars that rob you of your time and money, communication is NOT the key to a healthy marriage. It is a very small piece of a large and messy marriage pie. Unhealthy couples actually communicate very openly (and sometimes loudly) what they want, they just don’t understand how to get to the place they want to be. The following are 5 marriage killers. In other words, five dynamics that we have seen in our practices that spell disaster for all couples. It makes no difference whether or not you are christian or Buddhist, vegetarian or carnivore, republican or democrat. These habits are extremely destructive to relationships. Ask yourself the following questions. And if you are really adventurous, ask the people that know you best how they think you are doing in these areas. I dare you.

1. Are you moving towards your spouse when they ARE NOT around? This is more important than gifts, “love” languages, boundaries, date nights, sweet notes or house work. Ask yourself the following questions: Husbands-where is your heart when your team’s cheerleaders or dancers pop on the screen? Where is your heart when you are alone in front of your computer when no one else is around? Where are your eyes wandering at the gym? Where is your mind as you walk through the magazine section at the store? Wives-do you pollute your minds with images from movies like Magic Mike and books like Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you find yourself dressing in certain ways in certain places to get the attention of men? Are you using conversations with male coworkers or male friends to fulfill some need to feel wanted, pursued and special that you should be looking for from your husband?

All of these subtle instances provide opportunities to move toward your spouse or away from your spouse. Guard your heart and always ask “What need is being fulfilled in this interaction?” or “Is my heart…in this moment…connecting with my spouse’s heart, or is it  disconnecting from my spouse’s heart?” “What are my true intentions?” Emotional affairs, or having your intimate, emotional needs met from others outside of your spouse, don’t happen suddenly overnight. Affairs simmer slowly and they start by allowing your heart to wander when your spouse is not around.

Are you guilty of The Four Horsemen? The Four Horsemen were created by Dr. John Gottman, who can predict with 90% accuracy within 10 minutes whether or not a marriage will end in the next 7 years. The following four high predictors of divorce are common ways in which we unknowingly wound our spouses.

2. Criticism: Unhealthy criticism is communicated by escalating words, or words that escalate the intensity of an argument to a place that is neither productive nor helpful. Escalators include “you,” “always” and “never” phrases like “YOU are so selfish!” “You NEVER take out the trash!” “But you ALWAYS watch the game on Sundays!” Our spouses immediately become defensive when hearing these words. It is a natural response to defend ourselves when we hear these phrases.

Another way we escalate disagreements is by using character assassination. This means attacking the person rather than the action. Instead of saying “I can’t believe you lied to me!” we attack the very core of our spouse’s soul when we say “You are a liar!” Saying “You aren’t acting like yourself. You are acting like a jerk.” is preferable to “You’re a jerk!” Address the action, not the character of your spouse.

3. Contempt: Contempt is any verbal or non verbal action that might communicate that you are utterly annoyed and disgusted by your spouse. Non verbals are just as hurtful as verbals, such as eye rolling, long, heavy sighs, under-the-breath mutterings, head shaking, fist clenching, teeth grinding, and smirking. The scary part is that most of us have no idea that we are doing these things, but our spouses either consciously or unconsciously notice them and internalize that contempt.

Verbal contempt is outright name calling, vicious put downs and, more subtly, making public jabs at your spouse while around others. An example would be, during a cooking conversation with friends, a husband saying, “Cook! Ha! I’ll never see my wife in the kitchen with a pot or pan!” These comments can be said in a joking manner with laughter, but they cut deep.

4. Defensiveness: This is most commonly done by cross complaining. When your spouse expresses a valid complaint against you in a respectful way, saying “You don’t like it when I do that? Well…what about when you do _______!” or “That bothers you! But you do that all the time!” These are attempts at deflecting blame and responsibility.

This also happens by one spouse trying to prove the other spouse wrong or that their feelings are invalid. Rather than defending your actions, sit with your spouse and their feelings. Validate that their feelings feel very real and powerful. There is no need to immediately defend your innocence and clear your name. There are many times when our spouses just need to be heard.

Listen to your spouse and meet them where they are. And then, if you have a problem with something your spouse does, bring it up when it happens, instead of waiting until a disagreement occurs later on to bring out your list of grievances. Defensiveness will discourage your spouse from ever wanting to share their feelings with you and will push you very far apart.

5. Stonewalling: Stonewalling is any way in which you ignore or disengage from your partner when a problem needs to be addressed. In men, we commonly see physical shut down. This means during a disagreement, a husband looking down at the ground with little or no eye contact, not speaking much at all, or simply saying “OK” to everything. Husbands also frequently retreat to another room or say “I can’t talk about this right now.”

In women, we typically see stonewalling manifested by withholding sex when they are upset about something as a punishment. Intentionally withholding intimacy trains husbands to not voice their concerns or feelings for fear they won’t be able to sexually engage. When husbands feel afraid to voice concerns, they feel powerless and commonly turn to pornography, which helps them feel in control and powerful, further distancing them from their wives.

Guilty of any of these? If so, we recommend seeking professional help from a licensed mental health professional to work on new ways of relating to one another and strengthening your marriage.

Written by Doug Chisholm, LPC

Innovation360-Dallas

Rest vs. Unhealthy Escape

Despite the vast uniqueness of every human being, there are many universal truths about mankind that I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand through my profession as a counselor. One example: people of all backgrounds, genders, and ages seem to share a set of emotional needs such as acceptance, affection, and security. Another example: there are age-old adages that, while prescribed with the best of intentions, our experiences teach us are completely bogus. Oh no, mom and dad, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can hurt the mess out of me.”

Recently, a recurring theme is popping up in more and more of my sessions and, in full- disclosure, in my own life. It is a universal truth that we all recognize at different times. For some of us, this truth is observed when we commit to a life of sobriety. For others, it is acknowledged when they step into the heart of their college career and have six ridiculously specific classes that each sound more difficult than the one before (any other survivors of “Normative Ethical Subjectivism” out there?). For myself, this truth wasn’t known until I began a career of extreme emotional demand. Regardless of when it happens, we each reach a point when we tangibly realize that we need to learn how to rest well.

True rest looks different for every person. The more clients I see and the more I learn to care for myself well, the more aware I become of the stark difference between rest and “unhealthy escape.” Rest empowers us. It enables us to regain our energy, our strength, our confidence, and even our sanity so that we may approach the responsibilities of tomorrow with our full potential. In contrast, “unhealthy escape” provides us with an immediate gratification that, while for a time may bring us happiness, control, or numbness, ultimately brings us to tomorrow feeling less prepared, less capable, and less hopeful.

For some, true rest is found in the company of others. For others, it is found in restorative solitude. For some, it involves physical activity. For others, it involves being still. If you find yourself feeling like you are merely “surviving” life, like the things you used to find joy in seem burdensome, like your soul never truly “catches its breath”, a healthy dose of rest may, at the very least, be a partial remedy.

Much of finding your healthy rest comes in the form of trial and error. As you look back on your times of leisure, ask yourself some questions like the following:

• Did I walk away from that environment feeling recharged?

• Did that activity leave me feeling empowered or ashamed?

• Did my interaction with that group of people leave me feeling alive or depleted?

• Do I feel more or less prepared to take on tomorrow?

We need rest. We may feel superhuman, but we need rest to thrive. Give yourself the permission to take time out of the craziness of life and explore what true rest looks like for you. Taking time to rest can actually be one of the most productive things you do all day.