Existential GPS

Is your relationship ready for therapy?

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

“We just don’t connect anymore.” “I don’t trust you.”

“I hate having the same argument over and over again.” “I think it’s over.”

Sound familiar? Welcome to couple-hood and read on.

Seeing a couple’s therapist is not the first step toward divorce or separation. It is not about blaming your spouse or partner for everything that is wrong in your relationship, and it is certainly not about admitting defeat. Couples need to be open to therapy, particularly if the arguments, lies and hurt feelings are leading both to think that the relationship is permanently stuck. Couples need to be ready to work at their relationship and not expect the therapist to “fix” it for them. So, when is it time to hit the couples’ couch, you ask? Here are some indicators that couples therapy is the next step in your relationship:

“Communication, table for two?”

Do you fear sharing your feelings with your spouse or partner?  Do you feel as though it’s not even worth opening your mouth? Then it’s time to consult a therapist. Couples find themselves seeking help for a number of reasons, but poor communication and mistrust are the two chief complaints of most couples. Communication encompasses verbal contact (how well you converse and argue as a couple), written communique (texting and other forms of electronic messages), and the all important social cues, “Did you just roll your eyes at me!” 

A common characteristic of couples who communicate well: They share feelings – sorrows, joys, hopes, dreams, and frustrations.

“I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”

The above quote is voiced by Woody Allen in the movie ‘Annie Hall’ when he realizes that his relationship with Diane Keaton has stopped moving forward and is sinking fast. Being stuck may be the biggest sign that couples need therapy. But what does being stuck look like? Simply put, it feels like the couple is doing the same thing over and over again, and no matter how hard they try to change, things always ends up the same or worse. In many ways, they’ve just given up because that is the path of least resistance. A common characteristic of couples who are not in a rut: They communicate directly and show appreciation for each other’s ideas and feelings.

“What Happened? I didn’t sign up for this.”

Consider couples therapy as a proactive endeavor. I highly recommend that any couple seeking marriage or a live-in situation seek therapy before doing so. Sure you love each other, sure you’re not like “so and so” and that will never happen to you, but why take the risk of not openly and honestly discussing how each of you might react or feel under the stress of life events like: infidelity, family issues, or financial strain? Why wait until you are in a relationship with no clue how to navigate the arguments or respectfully engage with the other? A common characteristic of couples who use therapy as a preventative tool: They face conflict open and honestly.

“Intimacy – The Space Between.”

Intimacy isn’t just about sex. It is also about our ability to be vulnerable with the other. When intimacy fades from a relationship, couples therapy is a must. Intimacy refers to the feeling of being in a close personal relationship and belonging together. It is a familiar and effective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Intimacy suffers when the space and distance created by one or both people is no longer tolerable. Sex (if it is happening at all) feels empty, moments that used to create laughter and sharing are no longer happening, and that “connection” you had, well, that seems like a distant memory. Can you hug your significant other without cringing? If not, it’s time to seek professional assistance. A common characteristic of couples who are able to honestly face intimacy issues: They grow together, not apart.

Remember it is always important to consider whether your relationship is ready for therapy, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Give it a chance. You can get all the advice and affirmations you need from family, friends and self-help gurus, but there is no substitute for working together with a professional therapist in a space that is designed to help your marriage or relationship mature and grow.

If you would like to continue the conversation about your relationship or marriage click here to schedule an appointment with one of our couples therapists.

In Good Health,
Don

Existential GPS

I’m not in the Mood

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

We feel the love is still there, but the spark just isn’t. We get along fine,and there’s minimal fighting. We’ve been together for so many years, raised kids, took vacations, and lived as healthy as we could, but something went wrong. Months drifted into years, and now we’re realizing that we make for better roommates then sexual partners.

What happened?

You’re in a rut. You’re leading parallel lives, and don’t communicate anymore. You tell everything of any significance to your friends and family but not to each other. These are really big problems, and they are not going to just go away unless you deal with them.

The first step is to be realistic. If you’re looking for the knock-your-socks-off sex of those first few years, get real. Finding a new partner certainly isn’t a solution either. The initial passion in a relationship typically fades after about 12-18 months.  Hook up with someone new and two years from now you’ll have the same dull relationship you are currently experiencing.

Being able to fix a problem depends on what is creating the problem. There are many causes for loss of sexual desire. Some involve medical problems, such as hormones, other causes are linked to anxiety, depression or medications. If you have seen a physician and she or he has ruled out a physical issue then it is time to look at the other things that can lead to a libido drop. This may include addressing interpersonal reasons, with a potential lack of commitment in an emotional relationship by one or both partners. Perhaps one partner had his or her feelings hurt or has been turned down too many times, or one got too busy or neglectful. This doesn’t mean marriage kills sex and intimacy. It just means that sex may be the hidden conflict that neither of you wants to discuss.

Couples don’t talk about sex. We acknowledge that sex is important to marriage, but it is a subject that rarely gets discussed. It is healthy to let your spouse know what you do and don’t like when it comes to the act of sex. Let’s not minimize intimacy either. It is also healthy to let your partner know if you are less than satisfied with your sexual relationship and with the level of intimacy. Simply put, more talk of sex and intimacy can lead to more sex and intimacy in the marriage.

Careers, paying bills, obligations to family and friends, and parenting responsibilities can wear a marriage down. These are among the most common causes for one or both spouses to spend less time thinking about or engaging in sex and intimacy. Yet, all these endeavors are for nothing if there is no intimate bond between you and your spouse. In today’s world, we work hard at maintaining a particular lifestyle, but in the end the lifestyle we are working so hard to maintain means nothing if we lose our relationship.

If you are experiencing martial or relationship issues, perhaps we can help? Click here to schedule a confidential appointment to discuss your relationship issues.

In Good Health,
Don

Existential GPS

Need to be Needed

By Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

Who among us has not experienced the family member who “needs to be needed?” The person who for various reasons becomes the family rescuer? A “martyr,” “savior” or “saint” that will come through for others even at the expense of their own well-being? Codependency, by its very definition means that there a mutual dependent relationship, and that someone is usually a family member or a significant other. Co-dependency is a term traditionally associated with the treatment of addiction and recovery, but for our purposes let’s examine it in another light.

The question that comes to mind is why would someone want to be a full-time rescuer? What benefit is there to a person if she or he is driven to a point of being unhappy, resentful, chronically stressed, and physically or emotionally ill?

People who struggle with codependency typically grow up with an adult family member who demands perpetual emotional care. Often, this is a parent who never reached full emotional maturity. The phenomena of the helicopter parent comes to mind as this is someone who won’t allow for his or her child to experience the world as both a place of kindness and a place where you do indeed get hurt, sometimes badly. The codependent needs to be needed, and this is where things often fall apart when their way of understanding the world is threatened.

“I am because I serve.”

Love, confidence and self-esteem get knotted up with unending service. The codependent grows up starving for love and affection, someone who will “complete me” or fill the void. They feel significant not for who they are, but for what they do for others. The world is only as safe as they deem it to be and, therefore, they must protect those they love in the unhealthiest way possible by sacrificing their own sense of being. As a result, there can be little to no internal change for this person, that energy is redirected into trying to change the world around them. What psychological stability they can attain is contingent on making people dependent on them. This makes them fragile, resistant to change, and by all accounts the family martyr.

This is not to imply someone who is co-dependent lacks empathy, thoughtfulness or understanding. Those qualities can be quite genuine. The issue is ingrained in what tacit emotional agenda accompanies them.  This could oscillate between exhaustive periods of giving and sudden “I need to love me first” moments of resentment. The choice is never me and you, but an emotionally immature me or you. People cannot be related to as equals, but instead are seen as those who are in need of my service, AND they should be eternally grateful for my efforts.

Codependency involves a deeply rooted and highly persistent combination of attitudes, values, beliefs, and habits that will not be solved by a reading a self-help book or by a getting a prescription from the family doctor. Moreover, deciding to be “self-loving” won’t do anything either. “Loving me before I can love others” (as pop-psychology insists we chant as a daily mantra) suggests the same type of “self-sacrifice” that drives a co-dependent individual in a most unhealthy way – “See, I am learning to love myself so now I can serve others better.”

Relational conflicts require relational healing. Therapy is perhaps one of the few ways to create a relational world outside of the co-dependent’s universe. In most unresolved emotional conflicts past events remain shrouded in grief, regret and loss. These conflicts are often reinforced by attempts to self sooth or “cure” the feelings.

Beneath the worry and anxiety of someone with codependency sits an unconscious desire to obtain love, security and approval. Yet, for better or worse, the external world is not built to meet this internal need. Facing and allowing for loss and letting go submits an individual to a deep and valuable period of mourning. For the ill family member who could not be cured, for the child who did not get into the “right” school, for the vacation that did not go as planned, for the loss of love and support, misdirected energy is pulled out of persistent rescuing and gives it back to oneself. Though difficult and a times painful, mourning can ignite the process of healing. Creating a new role for those who were at one time in need of my “saving” allowing them to be who or what they actually are instead of trying to rescue them, also increases a sense of emotional maturity.

We should always remember that those who struggle with codependency are highly sensitive and caring individuals. Somewhere along the way the emotional speedometer jumped from 0 to 60 and it was never quite able to decrease to a healthier rate. Co-dependency is not a problem to be cured, but a life issue to be explored and discussed. If you feel you are struggling because of issues related to co-dependency contact us to schedule a confidential appointment.

In good health,
Don

Existential GPS

February Blues

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

February is the shortest month on our calendars. Psychologically, however, it is also the longest month. Leafless trees, barren landscapes, minimal sunlight, and frigid temperatures can wear a person down. For some, these environmental factors may produce symptoms of mild depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that impacts a person during the same season each year. If you feel depressed in the winter, but your mood and affect improve during the spring and summer months, you may have SAD.

SAD is quite common and can affect anyone, but it is more prevalent in women between the ages of 15 and 60. Anyone who lives in a climate with extended winter months where daylight is at a premium is at risk to develop symptoms associated with SAD. However, first onset symptoms are less likely to occur as you age. In other words, If you don’t experience SAD symptoms before the age of 40 you are unlikely to develop symptoms later in life. Keep in mind, SAD is a type of depression and should not be confused with mild or moderate depression.

There is no smoking gun to indicate a definitive root cause for SAD. The one apparent link that appears to be most prevalent is lack of sunlight. This may also disturb your sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms, and lack of sunlight may account for a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, which is linked to mood.

Some of the symptoms you may experience with SAD include a loss of interest in activities you normally find enjoyable, craving foods high in carbohydrates, such as pasta or bread, weight gain, feelings of sadness, irritability, constant worry, and drowsiness even after a full night’s sleep. Treatment may involve light therapy. Light therapy works very well for most people diagnosed with SAD, and it is easy to use. Typically,  individuals report feeling improvements to mood within two weeks of starting light therapy. Like any other treatment, you must be consistent and use the therapy on a daily basis. Otherwise, results will not be as effective.

Talk therapy or counseling has proven just as effective as medications in treating SAD. Therapy will help you explore the root causes of your feelings and assist you with managing symptoms. Stay active during the daytime, especially in the morning, by exercising at a moderate level. Walking, swimming, aerobics, deep breathing, and yoga are a great way to start. Stay hydrated, drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day. The more you do, the more energy you will gain. In addition to physical activity, appeal to your creative spirit by journaling, drawing or finding some other artistic endeavor. If you feel as though you are experiencing symptoms of SAD or depression, please consult a therapist or physician.

 

In Good Health,
Don

Existential GPS

BOOK REVIEW: As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling

by Don Laird

The pen of Rod Serling was on fire during television’s first and finest golden age. Serling crafted some of the most memorable and engaging live anthology dramas, while later going on to create, host and write for what is now recognized as a show that was far ahead of its time, “The Twilight Zone.” He was at the top of CBS’ Pantheon during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Curiously, The Twilight Zone may appear as nothing more than a black and white production full of aliens, shapeshifters, gremlins, time travelers, malevolent dolls, missing astronauts, and a list of memorable characters as far as the mind can imagine. After all, Mr. Serling both cautioned and tempted us with the opening lines of his now famous introduction to Season 1, “This is the dimension of imagination.” And imagine, he did. Yet, The Twilight Zone was never really about the trappings of science fiction or those overwrought narrative twists, it was about the folly of humankind, and the very nature of our existence. It was about the dreamers, the broken ones, those who wanted nothing more than to cry out against the isolation that irradiated an existential fallout in the United States following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A cry that is sadly still echoed today. Indeed, it was Serling’s morality and his humanity that made the show so special, and why it continues to be a part of our social nomenclature in the 21st century.

Serling explored the darker side of humanity while understanding that it is in our humanness that we might find salvation. In the episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” the character of the Army Major screams out, “Where are we? What are we? Who are we?” Yet, no one can answer his pleas. The characters are seemingly imprisoned in an absurd cylinder with no beginning and no end. However, as dreadful as that may sound, Serling in his traditional use of wit and irony turns the ending of this episode into a bittersweet reminder that we are all in this together.

Anne Serling’s new book “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” is cut from that same cloth. A reminder that we are connected, no matter how clever we believe we are, no matter how far we ride on the wheels of technology, we are bound by the one thing we cannot escape, our call to be human. Not only is Ms. Serling’s book essential reading for fans of “The Twilight Zone,” it is a beautifully written memoir; a journey through grief by a young girl who lost her loving dad far too soon. What starts out as a tribute quickly develops into a story that is akin to therapy. Moreover, this is a book that I would and have strongly recommended to clients troubled with complicated grief and loss issues.

Ms. Serling paints for us an abstract of her father’s early years and his traumatic experiences in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. She gently and quite lovingly reconciles the image of the man we all knew with the father she adored and who, in turn, adored her. This is a story told in snapshots. A glimpse of a man who exorcised his demons by creating memorable television while fostering a loving family life at their summer lake home in Ithaca, New York.

Not unlike the character of Martin Sloan in The Twilight Zone episode, “Walking Distance.” Ms. Serling presents us with a portrait of her father who is both successful and broken, longing for a life among the shadow of things that once were. Rod Serling’s closing narration in that episode illuminates his daughter’s prose:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there’ll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there’ll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then too because he’ll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind…

As Rod once said, “Very little comment here.” These are the memories of Anne with her dad. There is a sense of sentimental nostalgia warmed by love and care, and we are given an opportunity to remember and grieve with Anne. A trip down memory lane, as it was and is now. A journey that reminds us that the “givens” of existence are never far from view.

Visit Ms. Serling’s website for more information or click here to purchase: As I Knew Him, My Dad Rod Serling.

In good health,
Don