How to Stop Recurring Fights in Your Marriage

Most marital disagreements are recurring. The same issues resurface again and again, often revolving around money, chores, the children, or intimacy. It may seem like they can never be resolved, but the truth is, many marriage differences are resolvable. When couples learn some basic principles, they often find they are more able to solve old conflicts.

Why do we fight with the ones we love?

When you got married, you were likely deeply in love with your spouse. So why do the two of you fight sometimes? There are several common reasons.

You may have seen the pattern of marital squabbles in your parents and are just repeating it. Children internalize what they see, which is a real incentive to develop healthy conflict resolution and productive negotiation patterns so you can model them for your children.

When your spouse disagrees with you or complains about something and you respond with hurt or anger, this is a self-defense mechanism. Marriage is the most emotionally intimate of all relationships. You are supposed to be “on each other’s side,” supporting each other. When your spouse disapproves, you feel hurt, and perhaps subconsciously it feels like a betrayal of trust. To protect your wounded self, you respond with defensive words or go on the attack yourself.

Some differences, however, are truly irreconcilable. These involve personality traits or strongly held ideologies that conflict with your own. Once again, these can make you feel threatened. We generally have the view that if two things are opposed, one must be right and the other wrong. This is not always the case. Some things are purely preference and when emotions are involved, rational thoughts are not always available.

What can you do?

The first step is to change your belief patterns. You need to both accept that statistically, most disagreements in marriage are reconcilable, even if they do not look it at first. Believe they are and start looking for solutions, and you will hopefully find them. And remember that your spouse is not the problem. The situation or the issue is. Shift the focus of blame from your partner to the issue, and follow these steps.

1. Calm the emotions. As just stated, logic and reason are drowned out when emotions are running high. Remember, too, that your spouse’s emotions are also aroused. If you say things you do not mean when you are upset, probably he or she does, too. So cut your partner some slack.

2. When you are both calm, try to ask probing questions. Why do you think that way? What was your motivation for doing that? Try to avoid any words or tones that suggest judgment.  Be sincerely curious about why your partner thinks that way or does that thing. Sometimes the reasons are deep and rooted in events from before you met. Consider the subjective validity of your partner’s perspective. Also, be willing to take responsibility for your part of the argument – it is a great olive branch you have the power to offer when you stop pointing a finger at your spouse.

3. Both of you should then offer solutions. It may take a few different discussions to find something that works, but the effort itself will strengthen your bond.

4. When a difference of personality trait or ideology cannot be resolved, remember that personal preference is not an issue of right or wrong, and your spouse’s beliefs should not threaten yours. You may have to agree to not discuss certain things, but respect each other. Respect is the foundation of every happy relationship.

5. Mediation with a trained marriage counselor, expert in helping people find the deeper causes of conflict or mediating fundamental differences, can help you overcome your chronic disagreements and strengthen your union. Please call me or another qualified counselor near you to help you navigate around the landmines of recurring arguments.

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Be Kind to Yourself When Going Through Infertility

Infertility is a complex problem that rarely has a single cause. It can take time to unravel and can involve many medical procedures, schedules, and lifestyle changes that can add stress to an already stressful situation.

Be kind to yourself, even though the treatments are not. This is not only important for the success of the treatment (some evidence suggests that stress can affect fertility) but also for your own overall wellbeing. You are more than just a potential parent. You are a whole person. By loving your whole self and nurturing your whole self, you will be much more content and better able to face the treatments.

Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Partner

Many of my clients have shared with me how the focus on conception has taken its toll on their relationship. This is natural. Paying so much attention to conceiving can decrease intimacy and enjoyment. Blaming yourself (or your spouse) can cause partners to withdraw from one other.

Try not to let this happen. You love each other for more than just the chance to have children together. And if the treatments are successful, having a strong and loving relationship in which to raise your child is so important.

Instead of focusing on making babies, focus on what you love about each other. Plan extra time together to do things you both enjoy. Snuggle more. Snuggling releases endorphins which improve your mood.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

Negative self-talk is also natural but can be destructive. People struggling with infertility tend to blame themselves (or their spouse), blame their past decisions, hate their bodies, or feel like they are being punished or would not make a good parent. Stop! What would you say to your best friend if you heard him or her talk like that? You would, of course, try to soothe and encourage your friend. Do that to yourself. You need to be your own best friend.

When such thoughts come in to your mind, try several different tactics to find what works for you. You can respond to yourself with soothing words or you can choose to let the thoughts just float away and turn your thoughts toward something positive. You can distract yourself with a very mentally engaging activity like a mind puzzle or something work related. Or you may prefer to distract yourself with mindless fun, like a comedy. You can also channel the emotions positively by redirecting your energy to helping others. It is also important to set aside daily time to exercise and practice relaxation techniques, and to pamper yourself as often as you can.

Allow Time to Feel and to Talk

While negative self-talk is destructive, so is repressing your feelings. You need to allow yourself downtime to feel what you feel. Sometimes you need to just let yourself cry or yell. Try not to yell at others, though. Yell into a pillow or at a sporting event so people don’t think you’re in danger!

Talk to someone you trust about how you feel, a friend or counselor who will treat you gently and help you cope.

And while you need to have lots of positive time with your partner, chances are he or she is also on an emotional rollercoaster. Talking about your feelings can bring you closer together and enhance your love. But sometimes it can go in the wrong direction, so I recommend couples counseling to help steer your conversations in a loving, supportive direction. I have helped many couples and individuals work through the pain and stress of infertility, strengthening their relationship and helping them move forward together. I encourage you to find someone you trust who can help you, as an individual or as a couple, be kind to yourself and look to the future with hope.

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Infertility and the Question “When Are You Going to Have Kids?”

The holidays are a time of get togethers with family and friends. These can be fun, but also stressful. I recently posted a blog to address dealing with stress when you have anxiety. Infertile couples endure their own kind of anxiety: the pain of being childless during a season that focuses on children and family, and the fear that people will ask that very common question: “So, when are you two starting your family?”

People mean no harm when they ask. Some are sincerely interested in you, like your closest friends and loved ones. Others, people you may have recently met, may not be good at making small talk. Recognizing their intentions may help you consciously justify their question, but it does little to stop the visceral reaction of pain you feel when you hear it.

Part of this reaction is probably due to the tendency of couples to hide their struggles with infertility, even from those closest to them. Many couples feel shame or self-condemnation when dealing with this condition, and so they keep it secret. It’s so important to accept that there is no shame in infertility; it is not a reflection on you as a person, nor is it a sign from the heavens that you would be a terrible parent. It’s a biological condition and you are not alone.

How to Respond

There are several ways to cope with these questioners, both the well and not so well intentioned and it depends on their degree of closeness to you.

Consider sharing your struggle with those closest to you. Take time to think it through and discuss it as a couple, then share your situation and your feelings with your family and closest friends. Let them know you want them to be aware of your struggle but that you prefer they don’t ask about things unless you volunteer information. By doing so, not only do you avoid painful questions from them, you also develop a wider support team.  

For those people who are not as close to you but with whom you wish to maintain a positive relationship (co-workers or neighbors, for instance), give a vague answer and change the subject quickly.

    • “We’ll see what happens. How’s the guacamole?”
    • “It’s not something I’d really care to talk about. Let’s talk about your new job.”
  • “When it happens it happens. Let’s change the subject.”

For people whom you’ve recently met or you sense are just plain nosey, feel free to be a little more abrupt. It might prevent the person from hurting someone else in the future.

    • “That’s a very personal question and I don’t share that information”
    • “This is not something I would like to talk about?”
  • “It might be a good subject to stay away from don’t you think?”

You owe no one an answer. But those who are close to you could be a support system during a difficult time. I have helped many couples cope with the difficult emotional roller coaster of infertility. Please explore my blog for other articles on infertility and reach out to me if I can be of any help.

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Use These 3 Techniques to Cope with Anxiety During the Holidays

The holidays are opportunities to celebrate, have time off from work, and spend extra time with family and friends. Unfortunately, holidays come with so much preparation and so many expectations that they can cause a great deal of stress for anyone, especially those dealing with anxiety.

Preparing for a party or holiday event can involve many anxiety-provoking aspects: shopping for the perfect gift for each person on your list while watching your budget; planning the perfect menu and shopping for food; cleaning the house and preparing for guests; and dealing with crowds and the family members who rub you the wrong way.

You feel pressure to do everything “right” while you may also feel underappreciated for all your efforts. You may feel obligated to attend certain parties or see certain people. And, of course, you worry about paying for everything when the bills come in.

If you struggle with anxiety, even just thinking about these things can cause you to feel unhinged. There are no easy answers, but there are certain steps you can take to help you not only cope with the upcoming holidays but actually enjoy them.

  1. Manage Expectations – Yours and Theirs

Know your limits and “just say no” to some things. Tell yourself firmly that you can’t do it all, and believe it. Choose several things that are important to you and focus on them. You will be pleased with the results of those few items that you had the time and the energy to do well.

You also need to communicate this plan clearly to others. Only the people who are important to you really matter. Tell them your plans and why – you want to be able to really enjoy the holidays like everyone else by managing the anxiety-provoking activities. This is what you are going to do, and these are the events you will be able to attend. Those who love you will support you.

  1. Take Care of Your Health – Physical and Mental

This is particularly difficult during the holidays, but there are a few things you can do. Try to maintain your routine, which calms the anxious feeling because you know what to expect. Maintain sleep and exercise habits, and eat as healthily as possible. Exercise is proven to reduce anxiety and depression, as are sleep and good nutrition.

Allow yourself time to step away and rejuvenate in the midst of get-togethers. Again, in order to do this, you need to communicate with your loved ones. Tell them that you’re not angry or upset with them and you aren’t being rude or snobby. You are rejuvenating because you love them and want to spend quality time with them. If you have to leave entirely, they should know that it’s not a reflection on them. You’re there because you love them and want to see them, but you have limits and need to get your sleep or your quiet time.

  1. Avoid These Common Pitfalls

Don’t set high expectations. People are people and they have their own personality quirks. Whatever a person’s quirk is, the holidays will amplify it. Try to have patience with them as you want them to have patience with you. Don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This makes anxiety worse and can trigger an anxiety attack. And finally, don’t isolate yourself. Being alone too much can also increase anxiety and depression.

If needed, I can help you develop the skills to prepare for and cope with the holidays, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Update on Infertility: Stress Has an Impact

I recently posted a blog about how depression and anxiety are linked to infertility. Depression and anxiety are stressful in themselves, but stress can come without them. And “ordinary” stress itself can affect your fertility.

Stress has been on the rise for some time, and so has infertility, so it’s not a surprise that there is a connection. It’s a mistake to believe that stress is all in the mind and won’t affect your body. The brain, after all, is the control center that governs the function of every other system in the body: the nervous, endocrine, digestive, and circulatory systems­ all depend on the brain.

Many factors go into stress, and different people react to it differently. But it can’t be ruled out as a possible factor if you’re experiencing infertility, because stress affects both the body and our behaviors in several ways.

Hormones—The hypothalamus is a gland in the brain that regulates the emotions, the appetite, and the release of sex hormones. In both men and women, stress can cause a decrease in the release of GnRH, the chemical that controls the release of sex hormones. GnRH affects ovulation in women and the development of sperm in men.

Pregnancy rejection—Some evidence suggests that the body is more likely to reject implantation when the woman is under stress because pregnancy would further stress the body.

Behavioral changes—When under stress, we often cope with our emotions through changes in our behavior. Some people will smoke or drink more often, which decreases their physical health. Others may have decreased libido, so they just don’t feel “in the mood.” This complicates things even further when you’re trying to conceive, because you may be having sex for the purpose of conception alone, making the loving act seem less loving and more like a project. This can cause additional emotional stress.

Remember that not everyone is affected the same way by stress. But it’s important to reduce your stress, not just for your fertility, but for an overall improvement in your peaceful enjoyment of life and your partner.

Although you can easily find advice on “how to reduce stress,” the best methods for reducing your stress depend on your particular situation. We can work together to find the right way to help you reduce stress and improve your overall health and relationships.

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Are You Having an Emotional Affair?

When people think of the phrase “having an affair,” they think of a person having a sexual relationship with someone other than his or her spouse. But one can also be guilty of “emotional infidelity.” This can be just as hurtful to your spouse and just as damaging to your relationship, even if you think you’re “just friends” with the other person.

Most affairs, physical or emotional, start out as benign friendships. But if there’s something lacking in a marriage, a person may be feeling vulnerable and needy, and without realizing it, may start looking elsewhere for relief.

Take a close look at your relationship with this other person and ask yourself if your friendship has any of these qualities.

Signs that it’s happening

  • Is there sexual chemistry between you? Do you find yourself fantasizing about the other person?
  • Are you sharing intimate conversations with this person that you’re not having with your spouse or significant other?
  • Are you contacting this person when you’re not together, maybe to share a funny comment or to say “just thinking of you,” particularly at odd times?
  • Is this person frequently on your mind?
  • Are you making an effort to find ways to be with this person, and you don’t want your spouse around?
  • Do you feel like this person “gets” you?
  • Are you starting to compare your spouse to this person, and your spouse comes out less favorably?
  • Are you keeping this a secret from your spouse? If your significant other walks in while you’re typing an email to this person, do you quickly hide the email and bring up a different page?

These are all signs that you are beginning to switch your emotional attachment onto another person from the person you’re actually committed to. This is extremely damaging to a relationship, because your emotional energy is being given to someone else and being taken away from the one who should be receiving it.

Your spouse, when he or she finds out, is going to be very hurt. Many people guilty of an emotional affair deny any wrongdoing and attack their spouse for being “too sensitive,” or reading something into the situation, or being controlling. This makes the hurt even worse.

What to do about it

What can you do if you suspect you’ve fallen into an emotional affair? First, you need to care more about your spouse’s pain than about your pleasure in this relationship. Next, you have to recognize that you’re only seeing the best side of this person. You have your spouse 24/7, warts and all. You’ve idealized the other person, but remember that person has warts, too, you just haven’t seen them. Finally, you have to recommit yourself to your spouse or significant other, and either adjust your relationship with this other person or end it completely.

Remember, you loved your spouse very much once, and you probably still do.  You should be putting your energy into nurturing your relationship at home, not elsewhere. If there is something that needs work in your relationship, commit to fixing it. If you need help, I’m here for you. I’ve helped many couples work through these kinds of problems and become closer and more in love afterwards than they were before. Sometimes, the exploration in to what is going on in the relationship can lead to a parting of ways. Which ever way your relationship goes, clarity and honest are the route to a more authentic life. With work and a renewed commitment to the relationship, love can grow and become deeper as you face your challenges together.

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Three Things that Can Get Better with Couples Therapy

When couples come to me for help, they often start talking about a particular argument or issue they may be having at the time. However, therapy is not about solving whatever the current hot topic may be. Therapy is about getting to the roots—your core values, your world view, your baggage, your communication style. When we address these issues, we can usually reconstruct the relationship in a healthy way, so that the “hot topics” that seemed so formidable when you walked into my office have now shrunk to a manageable size.

This does not mean that creating and maintaining a healthy, happy relationship will suddenly be easy! Anything good takes work. You don’t expect to run a marathon when you first start running. You must learn certain principles then practice, practice, practice. If you stop practicing, your running skills will deteriorate.

If this is true for physical exercise, why would it to be any less true for the relationship with the most important person in your life?

So be ready to work. But the rewards will be worth it. You will come to know yourself better, you will come to know and appreciate your spouse better, and you will learn better communication skills. When these three core lessons are learned, everything else falls into place.

Don’t come to therapy thinking your partner needs to do all the changing, though. If I can get away with another analogy, imagine paddling a canoe. Each of you paddles on opposite sides, but if you don’t both pull the same weight, you’ll go around in circles. So it is with therapy.

Both of you need to be prepared to open up. Our experiences in life have shaped us, and often times, those experiences cause us to have trouble trusting, expressing ourselves in a healthy manner, or even feeling lovable. Sometimes it’s possible to pinpoint some behavior by your spouse that has damaged your trust in them, but sometimes the real culprits are past relationships that you or your spouse may be carrying over into your current relationship. By deeply examining your motivations and your past, you can both come to a better understanding of where you are coming from and where you both want to go.

This understanding improves your bond because you now see each other more clearly and can understand better why certain “hot buttons” trigger certain reactions. You can now work to create a system of communication that affirms each other and respects each other’s sensitivities.

There are many aspects that we address in therapy regarding improved communication. Communication is very complex, involving not only choice of words, but also tone and body language, and it changes depending on the situation. Listening is also part of communication; it is the other half of talking, and is perhaps even more important. But most of us listen to respond rather than listen to understand. Communication usually needs to be relearned when couples are having problems. The goal is to learn how to communicate in a way that assures each partner that he or she is loved and valued.

With couples therapy, you will grow to understand yourself and why you react the way you do. You will understand the same about your partner, and you will learn listening and communicating skills that will help you appreciate your partner more, affirm your love, and work towards a happy, healthy relationship.   

 

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Depression and Anxiety Associated with Fertility Problems

In the United States, an estimated 1 in 8 couples struggle with fertility issues. The sadness that naturally occurs when people find out they may not be able to have a biological child is significant and may lead to anxiety and depression. One study found that half the women and 15% of men who seek infertility treatment experience depression. Another found that women with infertility suffer the same level of stress as those suffering from cancer. And when a man has a physiological problem causing the infertility, he may have similar experiences with depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety can complicate matters when dealing with infertility, as they can affect regular body processes. Therefore if physiological problems exist, depression can worsen the problem and decrease the possibility of successful treatment.

Unfortunately, while many couples reach out for medical intervention during this time, few get the psychological help that they need. Infertility causes the same grief cycle as with any loss. Couples need to be aware of the symptoms of anxiety and depression in order to intercept them and reaching out to a counselor or psychologist who understands the painful issues of infertility may be very helpful during this stressful time.

  • Signs that your sadness of infertility is actually depression or anxiety:
  • You’re thinking about having a baby throughout the day.
  • You feel ashamed, defective, worthless, or you blame yourself.
  • You experience on-going negative emotions: persistent sadness, nervousness or panic attacks, or are more easily angered.
  • You have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
  • You can’t sleep or you sleep too much. You can’t eat or you eat too much.
  • You lose interest in your hobbies.
  • Your relationships are suffering. You may feel isolated from others, or purposely isolate yourself—to avoid seeing mothers with their children or to avoid people asking hurtful questions or giving well-intentioned advice. Old friends no longer bring you happiness and you may lose interest in sex.
  • You self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
  • You consider harming yourself.
  • Don’t wait to seek help

Sadness while experiencing infertility is natural. The symptoms listed above may be part of your experience but they can be mitigated with help. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you need to talk to a mental health expert. You don’t have to feel this way. As a couple and as individuals, talking out your feelings and getting guidance on how to deal with them is crucial to strengthening your bond and renewing your joy in life.

Finding peace and purpose will help you before you reach the point of self-medication or self-harm. If you’ve reached that point already, do not delay. This is a dark road to walk alone. I counsel couples and individuals and try to help them find new meaning, to strengthen their relationships, and provide them with the tools they need as they navigate their path forward.

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How Men Cope with Infertility and How to Help Them

Many couples come to me for therapy to help them cope with the stress of infertility. When struggling with this issue, society tends to focus on the woman’s feelings, while the man is often forgotten. This is likely because men usually share their feelings less than women do, and so it is assumed they are nott suffering as much. This is not true. Men suffer differently depending on whether the problem is with them or with their wives, but they suffer just as acutely.

How men experience infertility

When it is not male factor infertility, the husband also suffers while watching his wife go through treatments. There is also the internal struggle and sense of loss for men when realizing they may not be able to have a biological child. Traditionally, a man may feel like it is his job to take care of his family. Seeing a wife so sad may make a man feel helpless and like a failure. And because men generally try to “fix things,” he is likely to experience a rollercoaster of emotions around his sense of powerlessness. With each new treatment he may think, “This time it will work. This will fix it.” He has confidence in the science, and then the science fails him. Not only does he once again have his hopes of paternity dashed, he has to watch his wife go through her sorrow again.

When the husband is the one with the fertility problem, many more emotions come into play. The male self-identity is closely connected with a sense of virility. To have to admit that he cannot have biological children is a terrible blow to the male ego. And besides watching his wife suffer and not being able to help her, he now feels the terrible burden of guilt for being the cause of her pain. He also feels the cultural burden of “passing on the family genes” or “the family name” which he will now not be able to pass on to a biological child.

Men are generally less likely to talk about their emotions, but this tendency is heightened when dealing with infertility. A man usually feels like he has to “stay strong” so that he doesn’t add to the burden of pain his wife is enduring. And if he is the cause, he has the added perception that he’s not “man enough.”

How to help

Men need to address their emotions as much as women do, for their own mental health and for the health of their relationships. In counseling, I help couples find ways to draw closer together during this difficult time. But men need other outlets, as well. If you have a friend dealing with infertility, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask how he is doing. He may not tell you, but let him know you’re available. Eventually he might open up. Don’t offer advice, just listen.
  • Get him out exercising. It provides a healthy outlet for pent-up frustration and relieves stress. Excess stress can lead to depression, so getting out there and exercising might actually enable a man to cope better with his situation.
  • Help him stay involved in activities he enjoys and in which he feels some measure of control. This may help combat his feelings of helplessness.

Men suffer from infertility differently than women, but just as acutely. I’m here to help them with counseling, but as a culture, we need to become more aware of this fact and be ready to lend our emotional support.

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What Causes Depression?

Depression is a complex problem and rarely caused by one single factor. The important thing for a person suffering from depression to realize is that it’s not your fault.

Both internal and external factors work together to affect our physical and mental health. Some causes of depression may be out of your control but can be managed with medical intervention or counseling. Others you may be able to manage on your own.

Causes outside your control

Genetics – Scientific studies and our own life experiences prove that depression can run in the family. There may not be a single gene for depression but rather a combination of conditions that contribute to the increased likelihood of experiencing depression.

Brain chemistry – This could be connected to genetics, or it may be unique to you. Certain neurotransmitters, which are the communication pipelines to different parts of the brain, can be out of balance, causing poor communication and possibly inhibiting proper function of crucial brain functions.

Serious illness, chronic pain, or menstrual cycles – Obviously, if you’re struggling with an ongoing condition, it is likely you could feel sad or frustrated, which could lead to depression. Hormonal imbalances from a woman’s natural cycle can also cause recurring bouts of depression.

Loss of loved one or major life change – Just as with a physical illness, a loss of a loved one will naturally make you sad. In some people, however, this natural sadness deepens into depression. Even a major life change can cause depression in some people. Loss of a job can create a sense of fear for the future or a sense of failure, but even positive events, like moving to a new house or getting married, can cause anxiety due to the dramatic changes that might be involved.

Causes that you may be able to control

Stress – If your stress is caused by your job or family situation, it may seem unavoidable, but often, how we respond to situations can determine the impact they have on you.

Diet, sleep, and exercise – Lack of certain nutrients can lead to imbalances in the body, leading to depression. A healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is important. Insufficient sleep is closely linked to depressed feelings. The amount of sleep a person needs can vary, so it is crucial to make sure you get the amount of sleep that you, personally need. Interestingly, exercise is one of the best natural anti-depressants. Exercise stimulates “happy hormones” in the brain, and if you’re out in the fresh air, you get the benefit of beauty and sunshine as well.

Drug and alcohol use – People who abuse drugs or drink heavily have an increased incidence of depression. However, certain prescription drugs can also cause depression. Look closely at the possible side effects and discuss alternatives with your doctor if you have a tendency toward depression.

Get help

Please remember this if you’re struggling with feelings of depression: You are not a bad person and you are not weak. You wouldn’t think you were a bad person if you broke your leg, so don’t think ill of yourself for feeling depressed.

There is help and there is hope. For serious depression, medical intervention may be necessary. But often, talking to a counselor can help you see things differently and work through your feelings. I’ve seen it in my own practice over and over. With good counseling, many people come out from the dark tunnel of depression back into the light. You can, too.

 

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