Couples Activities

I want to make my relationship stronger!  If you live and/or work in NYC, you know that it can be a busy place.  And when you are working and living in the hustle sometimes taking care of your relationship gets lost.  Sure, you may have the same home, kids and goals, but are you really connected?

Many of my clients come to therapy looking to build something into their relationship.  Maybe trust has been broken and they want it back.  Sometimes their marriage lacks intimacy, understanding or they just do not feel connected.  Some of my clients are struggling with infertility and want to ensure that their marriage does not collapse around the stress.  Or they may have already noticed that the tension they are feeling from not being able to conceive is causing strain.

When couples start therapy and talk about their relationship it is often the first time they are open and honest with each other.  The work we then do together is dependent on the hope that both stay committed to the process of slowly opening up and then building on the discoveries they make about each other.

Many couples ask me for ideas on what they can do outside of our sessions.  While I encourage clear and open communication it is often important to get out and have some fun.  What can you do in NYC to have some fun with your partner.

Well my first suggestion is don’t go out to dinner to talk! Engaging in new activities enables you to see your partner in a different light so go ahead, try something new. It is sometimes fun and interesting to visit old places that were significant to your relationship history.  This can include the spot where you met or a place that was very special.  You could even have lunch at the restaurant where you got married, visit the spot of your proposal, or the building stoop of your first apartment.

If you are able, try to get away for a vacation or give a cooking or dance class a go. Incorporate different ideas each week to add new dimensions to your life and to your communication.  Mixing it up and getting out of your normal routine and comfort zone can be great fun and recharge the energy that is running low in your relationship.

Volunteering together at a local charity here in the NYC area is a great way to bond.  You get to do something meaningful and make an impact while spending some time together as well.  You can work at a soup kitchen, build homes, collect items for a shelter, sort books at the library, or even visit a local college/high school for career day.  Giving back will help both of you sit in gratitude for all that you have as a couple.

Join a team – even if you have never played baseball, soccer, tennis or kickball you can find a team that will put the two of you on their roster.  Walk around Central Park, Chelsea Pier, or some of the other beautiful outdoor spaces in this city.  You would be amazed at how many sporting opportunities there are in the city.

The important part of this entire process is making sure the two of you bond.  It actually has nothing to do with specific activity you choose.  A simple walk around the block holding hands may do the trick to reignite the spark or at least ease some of the pain as we work through the tension you are experiencing in your lives.

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Sleep and Anxiety

Trying to fall asleep when your mind is racing can be very difficult.  When you are dealing with problems in your life and you finally lie down in bed, your mind may drift towards those things that are causing you stress and you find you are unable to sleep.  Sleep is critical and provides necessary rest for our brains.  When you are already suffering from anxiety you might feel your heart or your thoughts start to race and suddenly you find you are wide awake.

So, what can you do when anxiety keeps you awake?  For my clients here in New York City we work together on a two pronged approach.  We begin by trying to uncover and then examine the issues.  We look at what is causing all the stress and axiety in your life.  Once we reveal the problem we strategize together on a plan to work through the issue.  It could be a problem at work, a financial crunch or even discord within your marriage. Many of my patients lie awake at night when they are going through infertility treatment and need assistance getting through the process.

Once we know what is causing the problem we can then work together on activities (and non-activities) that will create a bit more peace for you at bedtime.

  1. Brain dump – when you start to cycle through all the things you have to do the list can seem overwhelming, until you write it down.  Once you have all the stressful details out of your head you can then start to tackle the list.  And, sometimes, writing them down makes you feel as though you have begun the process of putting a plan in place.
  2. Exercise – under the direction of your doctor, starting an exercise program can be one of the most beneficial plans for you.  Physical fatigue will help your mind relax.  Make sure you do not exercise right before bed – leave a good hour or two before turning in.
  3. Wind down long before you go to bed.  Stop checking work emails and your bank accounts if these are things that are stressing you out.  Plan to do these activities at the beginning of your day.  If you and your spouse have stressful things to discuss then start those conversations long before you need to go to bed.
  4. Presleep activities:   You can read, meditate, listen to soothing music, anything to bring on sleep.  If these do not resonate with you then we will try to figure out the particular thing that calms you down.
  5. Go to bed at a reasonable time.  Sometimes the stress of knowing you are not going to get enough sleep is enough to cause you to lie awake at night and brings on further anxiety.
  6. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol long before it is time to turn in.  Both caffeine and alcohol can keep you awake and can cause disrupted sleep patterns.
  7. Limit your time in front of your computer, phone, and television.  These tend to stimulate your brain and interrupt normal sleep rhythms.

We can work together to tackle whatever is causing you to feel anxious and bring about more peace and balance into your life.  You will come to understand your triggers and with that, we will develop a plan to help you move forward, enabling you to cope with your anxiety and ultimately, get some sleep.

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How to Forgive

How can you forgive your husband for cheating?  Your wife for lying to you?  Your body for not cooperating and achieving pregnancy?

Forgiveness is a key ingredient when it comes to moving past suffering.  Holding on to a grudge and not forgiving may cause more damage than you think in that emotional and physical well-being are interrelated.

I want to make it clear that the process of forgiveness does not need to involve the other individual who wronged you.  While you can meet with them or even write them a letter, if they are not ready to apologize, the meeting may not feel helpful for you.  For the moment, just concentrate on keeping the process of forgiveness in your heart and mind.

When you work on forgiveness there is no one forgiveness process that works for each person.  When a client comes into my NYC office I work closely with them to identify the cause of their pain and together we uncover their way to releasing the negative feelings and ties to the anger.  We then explore the following ideas that hopefully result in a sense of forgiveness.  Your path may follow these steps or it may flow to other places.

  1. In detail, exactly why are you angry?  Was it a specific incident?  Be as specific as possible.
  2. Tap into each of the emotions related to the hurt.
  3. Acknowledge any part of the problem that you contributed to.
  4. Think about reasons why the individual may have acted that way.  Are they hurting and lashing out, did they seek revenge, are they wounded in some way?
  5. Can they make the situation better in some way as you move forward?
  6. Time to let go an actually forgive them.  Just saying I forgive you is a good first step.
  7. Remember, forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. You don’t have to forget to forgive.

Again, this does not need to be a conversation with another person, they do not even need to know you are forgiving them at all.  You can do this work in the privacy of my office or by yourself in a way that brings closure to your pain.

You will find that as you go through the six steps, sometimes over and over, you will be able to release at deeper levels.  For deep wounds the process takes time and it does not occur all at once. One usually experiences waves of remembering and pain but over time, these lessen.  The more you face the feelings and look at the other person through their own hurt and actions, the more you will be able to release it.

Forgiveness is not an easy path to walk and I applaud you for just exploring the possibility.  Working together we can work through your feelings towards the actions of others and get you to a more peaceful and forgiving place.

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Postpartum Celebrities – Serena Williams

Postpartum depression is a serious issue and in recent years it has become an important and much more open topic.  New mothers may feel embarrassed that they are not overjoyed with the arrival of their new child and they hide their negative emotions towards their expanded family.  It is surprising to know that many women suffer from from upsetting and frightening feelings after giving birth and many still do not receive the help they need to get them though such a difficult time.

First, it is important to distinguish between baby blues and postpartum depression. Experiencing feelings of sadness, irritability and drastic mood swings is completely normal after the birth of a baby as a result of hormones adjusting back to normal, pre-pregnancy levels. If these feelings persist after six to eight weeks, it may be time to get some help.

I always have great respect for celebrities who share their stories of postpartum depression.  While it is sad to hear that they have struggled, the awareness they bring to the issue and hope they give to other women is inspiring.

Recently I learned that Serena Williams suffered from postpartum depression after her daughter Olympia was born.  She reported feeling hopeless and the inability to stop crying at times.  These symptoms are common.

If you experience signs of postpartum depression it is critical that you discuss it with your partner, therapist, or close confidant.  Keeping feelings such as sadness and anger bottled up may trigger even more anxiety about the situation.

For many, simply discussing your feelings brings instant relief when they hear “hey, this is normal,” “I’ll help you through this,” or “I felt the same way.”

Sometimes all you need is a break, after all caring for a newborn can be emotionally and physically exhausting!  Getting out to see a friend, taking a nap, getting a massage or diving into your hobby for a few hours can bring about great relief.

But, if you are not experiencing a change handling the problem on your own, then it is time to seek professional help.  As part of my therapeutic practice here in NYC I have helped many women just like you work through the range and waves of emotions experienced after giving birth.

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Do I Need Therapy?

In recent years the idea of therapy has gained significant credibility.  What was once hidden due to a negative stigma, is now rather mainstream due to the significant successes that people now talk about in everyday life.  The results of therapy depend on a person’s particular situation but often include the ability to handle life’s challenges better than before. Therapy provides you with the tools you can use to manage problems that used to feel unsurmountable.

I have helped my clients through radical transformations in both their personal and professional lives.  Sometimes this includes decreased anxiety and depression, a better relationship with their spouse, and/or better interactions at work.  Whatever issue you are dealing with, committing to even just a few visits with a therapist can help.

Most individuals start down the path to therapy asking, “Do I need therapy?” Or another common question is “Can therapy really help me?”  Most of the time, if you are asking the question, you already know that the answer is yes.

If you are looking for some guidance or a list of criteria to help make your decision, here are some common signs that therapy can help you thrive in life:  

  1. You are stuck in your job or feel blasé about life.  
  2. You have uncomfortable anxiety that is causing you to avoid certain situations.
  3. Depression is having a negative impact on your life.
  4. You are struggling with infertility.
  5. You and your spouse are not getting along at all.
  6. You are going through, or just went through, a hard time.

We can work closely together out of my NYC office, and tease out the issues that are causing problems.  Often breaking them down into small pieces helps you see a more manageable process and allows you to move forward.

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What Can You Learn in Couples Therapy?

New York is a stressful place to live in.  While the hustle and bustle of the city can bring energy to your life, there is also a pressure to keep up and always be moving.  People rarely take a few minutes to decompress and check in with their spouse on a regular basis. Usually, when life is strained, perhaps with infertility issues or pressure from work, many individuals unknowingly, take it out on their significant other and then their most important relationship is strained.  

When I work with couples in my Manhattan office, it is usually at a time when there is a problem with their relationship.  They are not communicating or they are constantly fighting and it is usually never about the issue at hand but more about underlying feelings.  I help couples develop a strong set of skills to strengthen their relationship. There are three areas to work on in order to prevent arguments from escalating:

  1. Remember why you liked each other in the first place.  When there are problems, individuals tend to negatively view their partner.  It is always a good idea to step back and remind yourselves of why and how you came together in the first place.  You may even want to develop a list of what initially attracted you to each other. 
  2. Relationship problems are rarely the fault of one partner.  So, before you get into a heated discussion or “attack” your partner because of something he/she did, take a minute to think about how you could have contributed to the disagreement. When you start a discussion, you can then frame the issue with a spirit of cooperation.   
  3. Stop making assumptions.  When you assume your partner meant something or is thinking something (or didn’t mean or think) you waste significant emotional space on what may be very far from the truth. Before wasting your precious time, give your partner the benefit of doubt and talk.  

Every couple is going to have a bit of conflict now and again; it is only natural.  The best defense against escalated fights is a solid relationship. Compliment each other often, schedule regular time alone and date nights, and set aside time to check in about issues so they do not become major problems.

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Managing Work/Life Stressors

Many factors have contributed to the apparent increase in anxiety and depression in recent years. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, social media allows us to see many problems in the lives of others, and some sensitive people find themselves absorbing other people’s pain. But very commonly, stressors at work are the cause of anxiety and depression.

What could some of these stressors include? Increased workload, for one thing. Employees have much heavier workloads today than they did 15-20 years ago, and a person can only function at 150% for so long. Poor communication at work and a sense (accurate or not) that no one at work cares about how stressed out they are, add to this pressure. Finally, there are often personality conflicts at work that cause great anxiety.

So, what steps should you take to lessen your stress?

  1. Limit your social media and news consumption. There are many problems in the world; don’t make them your own.
  2. Start writing down events or conditions that cause you stress when they come to your notice. This act of writing them down can sometimes alleviate the discomfort right away. By seeing them in writing, you can sometimes see a solution or realize they’re not as big as they seem.
  3. As you determine the stressors that aren’t easily resolved, consider talking to the appropriate person. Often this is your direct manager. Without creating a combative atmosphere, try to present these stressful conditions, acknowledge that you think they may be affecting your performance, and ask for some suggestions regarding how they can be overcome. By acknowledging the manager’s authority and admitting you may be doing less than your best, you create a positive environment in which the manager recognizes you want to do better and are coming to him or her for help. Many times adjustments can be made that not only improve the situation but also improve relationships.
  4. Take time after work to unwind. Don’t open emails or take calls from work unless they’re absolutely necessary. Create a calming ritual at the end of the day.

These steps will help you manage the unmanageable stressors in your life. Keep in mind that if your anxiety or depression is so bad that you can’t get out of bed or don’t want to eat or take care of yourself, you should talk to a professional. When I work with my clients, I assist them in building skills to help them combat the stress of life.  It is a tricky dance to find your balance but entirely possible. If you can’t do it on your own, I am here to help you.

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Teen Depression and Cell Phone Use – Is There a Connection?

There’s no doubt there has been a frightening increase in depression and suicides in recent years, particularly among teenage girls. According to the CDC, between 2010 and 2015, suicide among girls increased by 65% and severe depression increased by 58%. This is truly alarming. Changes just don’t happen that quickly without a major change in social conditions or behavior. What could be one contributing factor that might have brought about such a rapid and negative change? The cell phone.

Although “smartphones” that could do more than just make phone calls existed in the 1990s, it wasn’t until 2007, when Apple released the iPhone with its internet capabilities, that cell phone ownership among adults and teens became almost universal.

But how could a cell phone explain this dramatic and negative impact? Researchers are still trying to explain the many factors that could cause such a jump, but there’s clearly a correlation.

Let’s look at the teen issue.  The CDC found that 48% of teens who spent 5+ hours per day on their phones thought about suicide, compared to 28% of those who spent one hour per day on their phones. The question is: Do more vulnerable teens use cell phones more, or do cell phones cause teens to be more vulnerable? The answer could be both.

Cell phones are literally at our fingertips and can provide us with virtually any information or stimulation that we desire at any time. Some teens and adults use their phones as an escape—when pressure builds, they turn to their phones for solace. But this could actually be exacerbating the problem by preventing them from developing healthy coping mechanisms or problem-solving skills.

Social media is another problem. While it may seem that social media is making “social connections,” very little true human interaction is taking place. Teens often compare themselves negatively to the whitewashed lives of the people they see online. They create posts looking for “likes,” and when they don’t get enough, they can experience lower feelings of self-worth. Even more dangerous is the increased incidence of cyber-bullying.

If you think your cell phone addiction is contributing to your depression, here are a few simple steps to take:

  1. Have mandatory times every day when you unplug.  Use this time to read a book, call a friend, or get out and take a walk without checking for updates.  
  2. If you are part of a family, have a no cell phone rule at the dinner table.  This will help each member of your family reconnect and place importance on real-world interactions.
  3. Do not run to check your cell phone first thing in the morning.  Instead, take time to connect with your day through deep breaths, meditation, a walk outside, and/or sitting for breakfast with your family, your partner, a newspaper or pet.  

While the phone itself may be innocuous, its applications can both worsen problems for already depressed or anxious teens and create problems, through lower self-esteem and bullying, in teens who might not otherwise have developed them.

As a therapist in NYC, I encourage parents to talk with their children about cell phone use and help them see where it can help them and also where it can harm them. This may begin to turn back the tide of depression.

 

Articles referenced:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/12/11/phone-addiction-is-real-and-so-are-its-mental-health-risks/#137e831813df

http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/08/19/teens-and-mobile-phones-over-the-past-five-years-pew-internet-looks-back/

 

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When You are Fighting all the Time

Are you and your spouse fighting all the time?  All relationships go through ups and downs, but the stress that constant fighting puts on your life can be substantial.  At times you may want to throw in the towel and other times you may be saying “I just want to fix this.”

Marriages, like all relationships, take work.  Over time many problems can be worked out if you both recognize there is a problem and both want to work on it.  As a relationship therapist in NYC, I help couples when they are struggling by working closely with them as individuals and as a couple to get them back on track.  Marriage counselors can help both partners get to the heart of the issues by uncovering the tools necessary to solve problems.

A good first step is to book an appointment with an experienced relationship counselor.  As you contemplate this, here are a few first steps to try.

  1. Realize that this is normal.  All relationships have conflict.
  2. Acknowledge that you need some help to move past this. If your partner does not agree then you can come in for a session by yourself.  Sometimes just having one of you start the process can make a huge difference.
  3. Take a big time out.  This can save you both from saying things out of anger that you really do not mean.  Sometimes the best thing for you to do is remove yourself physically from your environment, which is a good temporary solution.  Just taking a walk around the block can bring relief. Remember to let your partner know that you will be back.
  4. If you think you can start to talk (without fighting) then you and your partner could try communicating.  Give each other interrupted time to say what is on their mind.  This can work well if you both prepare to remain calm and you stay on the subject.
  5. Do not further aggravate the situation.  If your spouse does not get along with your parents, then during this time don’t make him/her go to dinner with your folks.  If money is an issue then don’t make your spouse feel shame because he/she does not have a high paying job.

Sometimes the topic of the argument isn’t the problem at all and there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.  Couples therapy can help you dig to get to those core issues and then build a stronger relationship by working through each of them.

When I work with couples in my NYC office I see the transformation in couples who are willing to work hard as we progress through sessions.   Men and women come into my office often feeling disconnected from each other and together we work to try and build a much healthier marriage and relationship.

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Problems in Your Marriage: Is Co-Dependency to Blame?

Often couples therapy starts with one spouse or partner coming to my office with a laundry list of complaints about the other.  They do not feel appreciated, they feel they do everything for the relationship and feel “less than” in the eyes of their spouse. They think that if they try harder or do more, they will get the attention and love they seek.

There are many reasons why a relationship takes a particular path and co-dependency is an involved and complicated reason why some relationships are unhealthy. If you research this on the internet you may see scary words that indicate there may be a serious problem.  And sometimes the word “narcissist” is used to describe the other partner.  Co-dependency sometimes arises in marriage and identifying it is the first step toward unraveling the patterns that keep you stuck in that type of relationship.   In marriage, one partner depending on the other for happiness creates unhappiness.

The process of developing a co-dependent relationship evolves over time and it stems from how you learned to interact in your family of origin. We get subtle and not so subtle cues on what is expected of us and how receiving and giving love is conditional.

We see this issue when one spouse just wants to to make the other happy at a cost to themselves.  This can happen at any stage of the relationship, especially when there are financial, work and outside family pressures.  Your spouse is upset over something completely outside of your control but you feel you have to make it better.  You try to find ways to improve a situation that is not within your ability to do so.  This leads to frustration as well as feelings of inadequacy so you try even harder next time.

Working together, I can help you identify the triggers that unconsciously push you to seek out comfort, resolution, connection and love through overcompensation. It is difficult to change set patterns because by doing so we expose ourselves to feeling uncomfortable and unsettled. By identifying co-dependency and accepting that this is a pattern in your relationship, we can explore ways for you to connect without totally overwhelming your partner.

Most importantly, if you are prone to co-dependency we can start to unravel the wounds that began the dysfunctional process by which you seek out love.

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