COVID-19 and Infertility: When Your Plans Are Put on Hold

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, all “non-essential” activities and businesses were closed, and non-emergency medical services were suspended. While for some people this shut-down was nothing more than an inconvenience, for others it was devastating – including infertile couples in the middle of fertility treatment.

Fertility treatment is an emotional rollercoaster for most couples. It requires a lot of psychological preparation and support during a difficult time, trying to maintain hope in the midst of uncertainty and disappointment. When things end abruptly and unexpectedly, feelings of anxiety and helplessness can escalate. If your fertility treatments have been delayed because of the COVID-19 shutdown, it’s more important than ever that you protect your mental health.

Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness, and anxiety are natural when your plans to build your family are put on hold. You may also feel that your window of opportunity is closing. Overcome these negative thoughts and feelings through healthy behaviors and thought patterns, and if needed, additional help from a support group or a professional. Here are some important steps to take for your emotional well-being:

  • Spend time with those you love. Surround yourself, either literally or virtually, with the people who understand you, love you, and can distract you from negative thought patterns. As the country begins to open up, take the time to visit with others while maintaining social distance.
  • Read or watch funny stories. People who laugh daily are physically and emotionally healthier. Joke books can help.
  • Take care of your physical health. Your physical and emotional health are closely intertwined. Eat a nutritious diet, exercise daily, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Pray or meditate. According to a study in Psychology Today, prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress, increases trust, and makes us more forgiving, self-controlled, and all-around nicer. Meditation comes in a number of forms, but the goal of meditation is to find serenity and calm and a new perspective on one’s situation.
  • Maintain strong communication lines. Don’t turn in on yourself. Talk with your spouse about your feelings. You are going through this together. Allow it to be a time in which you more deeply express your love for each other and work together to find coping mechanisms that make you both feel better.

Don’t forget to reach out for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Find a counselor near you who has expertise in helping people through the difficulties of fertility treatments. If you’re in the NYC area, reach out to me to see how I can help you.

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Rebuilding Your Life after Coronavirus

As the coronavirus case curves continue to flatten and decline, restrictions placed on our lives are beginning to ease. While we will still need to be careful for quite some time, the small steps toward the freedom we once enjoyed are encouraging. 

It’s natural to have some anxiety during this time, especially if you have uncertainty in both your personal and professional lives. You and your spouse may have had a very rough experience because of the quarantine. Maybe you were furloughed from your job or the company closed. Maybe you saw friends or loved ones sicken or die. Or maybe you saw people on social media who used the quarantine time to master yoga, read 100 books, or repaint their NYC condo. 

My first word of advice to you: do not compare your quarantine experience to anyone else’s. You have no idea what other factors were going on in other people’s lives. Remember, people generally only share the best parts of their lives on social media. Therefore, focus on your own situation and how to begin to get back to a healthy place emotionally, physically, and relationally. 

Continue to take precautions

It’s important to continue to follow the reasonable guidelines of healthcare professionals. In most instances, we are being asked to wear face masks and maintain a social distance of six feet when in public. Even as these requirements ease, if you feel more comfortable going out with a mask on, by all means, continue to follow whatever precautions you feel safest using, even if they are not required. 

Maintain your physical and mental health

It’s reasonable to have mixed emotions as restrictions are lifted. You may continue to worry about your own health and the health of loved ones. Or, on the flip side, people you know may continue to have worries when you don’t, which could cause hurt feelings and strained relationships. 

Maintaining emotional and physical health now is, for the most part, the same as any other time. However, keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to stressors, and we’re all under stress. Try not to allow yourself to be hurt by those who do not understand your precautions, and try not to be hurt when others are more cautious than you think is necessary. We will all get past this soon, and you do not want to damage any relationships over the level of health precautions you and others are taking. 

Your mental health and physical health are very closely intertwined. Good sleep habits and healthy nutrition are critical for good mental and emotional health. Certain mineral deficiencies, such as being low in iron or B12, can cause low moods. Excessive caffeine can make you jittery. Drinking, smoking, and other substances are often used to help a person cope but can develop into serious health problems. If you haven’t started to use them, don’t. If you have started to use them, stop. If you can’t stop easily, you may be developing an addiction, and I recommend you seek help. Freedom from addiction will have tremendous positive effects on your mental and physical health as well as your relationships. 

Exercise is another necessity that is as good for your mind as it is for your body. Most of us, especially in New York City, have been forced to be cooped up. As coronavirus restrictions are being lifted, we are encouraged to get outside as long as we are maintaining social distance. Find some form of exercise that you enjoy that will lift your spirits and improve your health. If you can get outside, so much the better – vitamin D, which we get from the sun, is incredibly helpful to mind and body, improving both our mood and cell function. 

Coping with your career and finances

Financial difficulty is a serious stressor that you may be struggling with right now. Fortunately, the government has set up a number of programs specifically to help people get back to work quickly, there is reasonable hope that the situation will start to improve. 

Reach out to your bank or local government office to see what programs you may qualify for. Doing so may give you some sense of control, which, along with the other techniques I mentioned above, is a powerful way to limit your emotional stress due to financial difficulties. 

Final advice

Remember that if you find yourself ruminating – thinking about fears or worries for an extended time – “switch the channel” in your thoughts. Consciously make the decision to think about something else. You may want to put on a movie or pick up a book you really enjoy to get your mind onto happier thoughts. 

Keep moving forward every single day. Take daily steps to begin to get back to normal, at a pace you feel comfortable with. And as I said in my first word of advice, I say again in my last word – don’t compare your quarantine experience with anyone else’s. Focus on you and your loved ones, and on making the transition to normalcy as pleasant as possible.

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Lessons from Marriage Counseling

One of the most important lessons I try to help my clients understand is that maintaining a long-term intimate relationship takes a lot of work, and the work is ongoing. It’s not like you can work on your marriage once and fix it. Life is in constant flux, and we need to be ready to adjust as needed to every new situation in life.

The idea of working hard all one’s life may seem scary. However, you will have to work hard all your life no matter what. So why not do so with a partner who can help you through it and make life more meaningful and fun? That’s what a good marriage can do. It’s worth the effort. 

Marriage can make you a better person. The efforts you and your spouse make to heal and help your relationship will make you both better people. Neither you nor your spouse will likely ever be perfect, but you can grow in virtues such as patience, understanding, compassion, and even a good sense of humor.

From a big-picture perspective, I help guide my couples to grow in several areas: communication skills; emotion and anger management; trigger recognition; development of mutual respect, empathy, and compassion; development of healthy problem-solving skills. 

Each of these big-picture goals has many aspects, and they are all interconnected, because we are complex, rational beings who often act irrationally. But a few of the aspects include:

Identifying triggers: We all have them, and they are generally grounded in painful past experiences. We might be able to consciously identify why something bothers us, and we might not. For instance, if you were teased a lot in school, you might feel hurt by what your husband thinks of as just joking around. Sometimes identifying the cause of the triggers can actually eliminate the triggers. However, for the most part, unless you heal past hurts, those triggers will remain, and you and your spouse need to be conscious of them and avoid them.

Recognizing that most marriage differences can’t actually be “fixed” and need to be managed: This is important. One of the greatest benefits of marriage is that very different people with different strengths are stronger together than apart because they fill up what the other might lack. However, these very different people also have different weaknesses, or simply different personality traits that might rub each other the wrong way. Triggers are included here, but it is broader than that. Developing methods to manage the differences with patience, love, and good humor is a critical component of counseling.

Managing emotions: Anger is often used to hide pain. Blame, stonewalling, and other poor emotional responses to stress or pain cause a great deal of damage to a marriage. I help couples recognize their unhealthy emotional reactions and develop communication skills that are softer and kinder, healing the pain and hurt in both spouses.

Looking to fix yourself, not your spouse: You have enough to work on. Be proactive and start with what you see that you can do to help make your marriage better. As my couples learn better communication skills and emotional responses, they are able to help each other more and find healthy answers to their problems. But each must be doing his or her part separately in order to have good success as the counseling progresses. 

You don’t have to be on the brink of divorce to seek out marriage counseling. In fact, the sooner you start after noticing your marriage is stressed, the better. If you are going through a family crisis such as job loss or a sick child, getting help at that time can give you the resources you need to avoid major damage and make you much stronger, just when you need each other the most. 

One last word of advice – if the first counselor you choose just doesn’t really click for you, try another. Your counselor should share your values and have a communication style and counseling approach that you feel comfortable with and that works for you. Don’t think “there’s no hope for my marriage!” just because one counselor wasn’t able to help. 

If you’re in the New York City area, reach out to me and let’s see if I can help you strengthen your marriage.

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Is a Fertility Support Group Right for You?

I work with couples struggling with infertility. Sometimes they eventually conceive and a child is born and sometimes not. My goal is to help them remain emotionally healthy as individuals and grow closer as a couple through the process of seeking help to overcome infertility or to accept it and define their next steps. Sometimes an infertility support group is part of the process. 

An Infertility (or Fertility) Support Group is not counseling or therapy. It’s a group of people going through the same basic problem but experiencing it in different ways. It’s an opportunity to talk to people who understand your feelings, a place where you can share events in your life, vent about insensitive family or friends, and gain some insight from the experiences of others. Communities can be online or in person. 

Joining a community depends on your personality. Some people feel better when they can express their feelings or thoughts in words to others. Some prefer to share only with their closest, most intimate friends. There is no right or wrong here. Which will help you? 

There is sometimes a challenge in these groups, when members become pregnant. Even though everyone in the group is hoping for it, when it happens it can be a cause of both joy and pain. This is a factor to consider when deciding if you should join a group. 

Here are just a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Will I feel better having people to turn to who are experiencing many of my same experiences and emotions?
  • Do I need to just vent sometimes to people who aren’t in my immediate circle, so I can work through my feelings verbally?
  • Am I open to suggestions from others who are walking my same path?
  • Can I handle hearing about the suffering of others and offer them support, or will it make me feel worse?
  • How will I feel if one of the members announces she’s pregnant? Will I be able to handle it? Will I feel crushed inside, even if I am happy for her? 

These are just a few questions to consider. If you’re not sure, you may want to just try it out to see. There are many different kinds of infertility support groups; some are general, some are for specific problems, such as PCOS or endometriosis, some are all-female, all-male, or couples. 

Keep an open mind and decide if it’s right for you. If you try one group but it’s not well moderated and things seem to feel as though they are out of control, try another before giving up on the idea. 

In the end, only you know if you need a support group, a counselor, neither, or both. Talk to your spouse about it, too. You’re going through this together. If you’re in the New York City area, feel free to reach out to me to see how I can help.

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How to Work Out the Big Conflicts in Marriage

Every marriage has differences and conflicts because every marriage is made up of two people who have different backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities. It’s inevitable that you will disagree in some areas. Most couples can work through the small conflicts, but when the disagreements occur in important issues, such as money, sex, and child rearing, it’s important to work through them rather than get caught in a perpetual cycle of disagreement and hurt feelings. 

The big picture

The foundation of your conflict resolution must be an attitude of love and respect for the other, even if years of hurt have already accumulated. You loved your spouse when you got married; you would never have intentionally hurt your spouse and he or she surely felt the same way. Over time, hurts happen. But it’s critical to assume the best in your spouse when trying to work out conflicts.

Remember, your goal is to deal with the issue, not the person, and to make your relationship stronger through respectful dialogue and resolution. This may be difficult, especially if the two of you have already developed a habit of angry and hurtful fights. If so, you may want to get the help of an experienced couples counselor to help you create the right foundation and learn the right communication skills. 

Evaluate the issue

Ask yourself first if the issue causing the conflict is actually something that will just benefit you, and you’re not considering how it might impact your spouse. These scenarios happen more often than we realize because we tend to put on blinders when it’s something we really want. In such a case, you may have to reconsider pressing the issue. If, however, it seems to you that the matter is important for both of you and/or for the family, it’s appropriate to discuss it.

Address the issue

With an attitude of respect and compassion for your spouse, begin the discussion at an appropriate time. You may want to plan a time to discuss it, if your spouse is open to that. In order to demonstrate your willingness to listen, you may want to let your partner be the first to speak. 

Listen with a sincere desire to understand your spouse’s position and ask questions to understand more deeply. You are trying to collect information, not so you can develop a counter-argument but so that you can build a mutually-beneficial resolution.

When it’s your turn, choose words that are sensitive to your partner’s feelings and avoid accusation. Include how the conflict makes you feel, but do so lovingly, assuming that your partner does not want or intend to hurt you. 

If you have caused pain to your spouse, a sincere apology is definitely in order, without any qualifiers blaming the person. “I’m so sorry I snapped at you. I had a bad day at work and took it out on you” is acceptable, but adding “but you shouldn’t have nagged me” is not. 

Roadblocks to reconciliation

Remember that both you and your partner come to marriage with a set of experiences that could be the root of some problems. Be sensitive to those past hurts and experiences and don’t expect your spouse to change overnight any more than you could. 

Some differences are so fundamental that they are essentially unresolvable. So common are they that it’s been said that when you marry a person, you marry a set of unresolvable problems. But even with unresolvable differences you can find compromise in small areas or humor that will strengthen your bond. 

How to move forward

Hopefully, by maintaining an atmosphere of trust and respect, you will gradually find compromise on the important issues in your marriage, such as disciplining the children, use of money, or sexual intimacy. If too much pain is involved, or if you need to learn the correct communication skills, it’s best to seek the help of a counselor who specializes in couples therapy to help you work through the issues. Don’t give up or clam up. Step forward toward a happier future together. 

If you live in or around the New York City area and need help in your relationship, reach out to me for an initial consultation.

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Top 5 Problems to Work on in Your Marriage

Top 5 Problems to Work on in Your Marriage 

If you got married expecting “happily ever after” without any effort on your part, you’ve probably discovered by now that it doesn’t work that way. Having a healthy marriage takes a lot of work. But it’s worth the effort, because having a partner with whom you share your life can make the trials of life more bearable and the joys of life more joyful. 

Every marriage has challenges. Recognizing the challenges of your particular marriage and working together to overcome them will make your marriage even stronger and more vibrant. Traditionally, the most common problems were issues of money, children, and intimacy. In recent years, household chores and technology have made my Top 5 list. In virtually all problems, the most important ingredient is communication. 

Money

Whether you have too little, too much, or don’t know how to manage it, money is often a source of conflict in marriage. Usually, the underlying problem behind money issues is either a power struggle or a matter of conflicting values or priorities. In tough economic times, financial concerns can increase stress and irritability, affecting every aspect of marriage. 

Sit down together with the goal of collaborating to overcome this problem. Without accusation, try to determine what the underlying problem is first, then craft a solution around that. A budget is a helpful approach to keep certain non-essential spending in line. Think about what values or priorities each of you have (i.e., one of you likes to give to charity; one of you has a hobby that costs money) and define a reasonable monthly expenditure, looking at the big picture.

Consider a prepaid card for each category of spending, so that when the card is used up for the month, you stop spending on that activity or item. But try to budget in some fun-time together as well – date night at the movies or even an inexpensive picnic in the park, just the two of you. Reward yourselves for your financial wisdom! 

Children

Children are a source of great joy, but can also be a source of stress. How many children to have, struggles with infertility, differences in child-rearing and discipline styles, toys underfoot, and the running around associated with modern parenting are all issues that can stress a marriage. In addition, one parent or both may focus so much on the children that they forget to notice each other anymore.

As with money issues, it’s important to discuss your values and priorities in childrearing and find a way to work together to get everything done without forgetting about each other.

Intimacy

Intimacy refers to both physical contact (sex, holding hands, snuggling, touching) as well as emotional contact (trusting, sharing intimate or sensitive thoughts and feelings). The busy-ness of modern life can take its toll on the time we spend together as couples. If you’re exhausted at the end of a busy day, you may not be interested in sex. Conversely, you may still want sex but don’t show your spouse physical affection or emotional intimacy the rest of the day. 

Intimacy is what makes marriage a marriage, as opposed to being roommates or just friends. It’s critical you take the time to work this out. In many marriages, one partner is more interested in sexual intimacy than the other. If this is the case, find a compromise and balance this with other forms of intimacy. As I mentioned in the previous two solutions, budget into your finances a little money to spend on each other, and budget into your child-rearing efforts a little time and effort for each other. 

Chores

Years ago there used to be “women’s work” and “men’s work.” But that is a thing of the past. Or it should be. Since in many families both spouses work, household chores and errands should be divided equitably. 

Equitably does not necessarily mean equally. Only the two of you can decide what’s “fair.” You’re both probably going to have to accept some chore or errand you don’t really like, but that sacrifice, done out of love for your spouse, will help strengthen you as a couple and keep the household running smoothly, which will decrease stress and increase peace.

Technology

This recent phenomenon is quickly becoming one of the biggest causes of divorce, because it affects just about every other cause already listed. Multiple studies now show correlations between technology use and increased dissatisfaction in marriage. 

After being apart for most of the day, don’t come home and spend time on your cell phone or tablet, catching up on social media, the latest shows on Netflix, or any of the hundreds of other ways we distract ourselves with news and entertainment. Instead, spend time with your spouse. The best way to do this is to budget your time on the internet or other devices. Decide together what’s important to each of you and plan to spend time together. And please, don’t lie in bed catching up on social media before you go to sleep! 

Texting distances people. Research indicates that it creates a “remote social connection” less personal than calling. So if you mostly text your spouse during the day, maybe switch to a call in the middle of the day, just to say hi.

Sharing everything you do on social media can decrease intimacy between couples as well. Try to save some things to be personal, just shared between the two of you. 

Communication is the key

You’ll notice that every one of these problems requires communication and concern for the other’s feelings in order to be successfully overcome. If you need help learning how to properly communicate, reach out to a qualified marriage counselor. If you’re in the New York City area, contact me to see how I can help you.

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Causes of Depression

Depression is a complex illness that is often caused by multiple factors. As a counselor, it is important to explore the underlying causes of the depression my clients are experiencing, in order to develop a treatment plan that will be uniquely effective for them. 

Medical research has identified several major causes of clinical depression, and in my experience as a counselor, I have seen these causes manifest into depressive symptoms in my clients. 

Abuse: This is one of the most common causes of depression. Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse can leave scars that take time to heal. Abuse can lead to depression, anti-social behaviors, addiction and other coping mechanisms, including abuse of others. 

Conflicts, major changes, life stressors: This is a large category. Someone who is undergoing conflict or dispute, especially in the family, can experience depression. Major changes can cause imbalance that leads to depression, even positive ones such as marriage or a new baby in the house.  Major stress in home life or at work can also lead susceptible people to depression. 

Death or loss: It is natural to feel sad for an extended time after the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or other major blow. When sadness goes on for an extended time or deteriorates into not caring for oneself, loss of interest in life, mood swings, anger, or isolation, it is time to seek help. 

Family History: Those with a family history of depression are more susceptible to experiencing depression when other factors are present, such as stress, abuse, or loss. Sometimes, however, a biological tendency toward depression may be the cause when a person shows signs of depression but there are no seemingly obvious triggers for these negative feelings. 

Medication: For many medications, depression is a possible side effect. People should be watched closely when they begin medications that have this side effect and help should be sought immediately if depression occurs. 

Depression looks different in different people

Although there are variations across groups, often there are themes that resonate as consistent for people experiencing depression. If you are concerned about your own depressive thoughts and feelings or feel worried about a loved one, reach out for help.

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Relaxing into Infertility

Probably every infertile couple has heard it: “Relax! Stress causes infertility.” These words can be very painful to couples who have struggled with infertility for a long time. Still, the advice is good for a different reason—struggling with infertility can itself cause stress, which is just plain bad for your health and your relationship. Life in New York City can be stressful enough so it is helpful to learn the skills to reduce stress so that it does not build up.

While there are studies that show a link between stress and infertility, others show little or no correlation. Yet we’ve all heard the anecdotal stories: as soon as a couple gives up trying to conceive and they adopt, she becomes pregnant. As soon as they accept infertility and embrace being childless, she becomes pregnant.

Yes. It happens. And maybe it will happen to you. But that’s not why I want you to relax. As a counselor, part of my therapy is to help people come to terms with their situation. You may still be working towards fertility, or you may have tried everything and are ready to move on. Wherever you are in the process, there are certain steps you can take to feel more at peace, which will improve your mood, your health, and your life. 

Try some of these stress-reducing activities:

Pick up a new hobby or return to an old favorite. Alone or together, do something that you enjoy.

Do something physical together. Dancing or other physical activities can increase the romantic bond, while the physical activity releases hormones that promote feelings of wellbeing.

Get more sleep. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves (and apparently, more than 80% of women ovulate between midnight and 8am, during the repair process). Sleep helps the body and brain function more optimally, so insufficient sleep is going to decrease your performance at every level.

Enjoy intimacy for the love of each other, not just to have a baby. After a while, the focus on having a baby can make sex seem like a project rather than an act of love. For a while, don’t think about the baby-making part of it, just think about each other.

Do simple de-stressing exercises. Here’s a progressive muscle relaxation technique that helps you relax when you’re feeling noticeably tense. Try it if you have trouble relaxing before bed: Tighten and relax each part of your body, from head to toe. Start with your scalp – tighten and hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Move on to your facial muscles, jaw, neck, and step by step throughout your body. You will feel the tension melt away.

Think about getting a pet. Cats and dogs are affectionate and need exercise. Choose an animal that you both really enjoy and give it some loving. Rescue an animal from the SPCA or other reputable organization and you’ll also have the pleasure of saving an animal’s life.

Eat calming foods. Yes, calming. The nutrients in certain foods can decrease stress and anxiety. Some of these include brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (but watch the sugar), turmeric, chamomile, yogurt and other fermented foods (for gut health), and green tea. Good nutrition promotes optimal mental, physical, and psychological health.

Talk to a professional. Sometimes, even if you try all these ways to relax, you can still benefit from talking to a counselor who specializes in helping couples through infertility. 

If you live in the New York City area and are struggling with infertility, I’m here to help. Call for a consultation.

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Does a Marriage Counselor Ever Recommend Divorce?

As a couples therapist, my goal is to help couples who experience difficulty in their relationships take personal responsibility for who they are and how each contributes to the relationship. This also means they must be personally responsible for the decision to divorce or stay together. While some counselors may recommend a course of action, that is not something for a therapist to decide. A therapist should help the couple come to their own decisions – decisions that will lead them to the healthiest place for both of them. 

When  a married individual comes to me for individual therapy and I recognize that part of the stress stems from within the relationship, I often recommend we start couples therapy. When I see how my patient interacts with the spouse and I myself, meet the spouse, that I can determine where some of the problems lie and how I can help my client. Often, clients behave very differently when they are alone then when they are with their spouse, and it is always informative to see the difference. Individually, each person brings their uniqueness to the relationship but years of accumulated hurt, exacerbated by poor communication skills can bring out dysfunctions that erode a relationship. 

Conversely, when I am counseling couples, it is important to speak to each one individually, as well. The goal of this individual time is to understand each party better when the other partner is not present to affect how they answer questions. This deeper understanding will help guide our couple sessions more effectively. It also helps me see what the individual is like when not in the presence of someone who represents the source of their stress. 

It is in these individual sessions that I may find out about physical abuse. My primary responsibility is to keep my client safe, and in such cases, I would recommend a separation for safety purposes. 

When a couple comes for therapy, and both seem sincerely interested in saving their marriage, the chances of success are good. When it becomes clear after a great deal of effort that one or both are not willing to forgive, compromise, or recognize how they contribute to the problems, my next step is to help them recognize their own feelings, their own level of commitment to the marriage, their own responsibility for how the marriage arrived at the current place it is in and what steps they are willing to take to save it. Along the way, they might find the forgiveness or compromise they so desperately need. Or they may find a road forward that leads in different directions. 

Ultimately, it is the couples counselor’s responsibility to help the couple reach a place that is healthiest for them, both as a couple and as individuals. They must be responsible for the decision to stay together or continue apart. My job is to help them explore their strengths and weaknesses, draw out the story of their marriage and what brought them together and kept them together thus far, help them discern their commitment to the union, and develop the communication skills, forgiveness, and compromise needed to make any relationship a blessing rather than a burden.

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My In-Laws Are Ruining My Marriage!

It is often said that when you marry, you marry your spouse’s family and this feels very unnerving when you have a problematic relationship with your in-laws. It is important that your in-laws know that you, as a married couple, are independent and have the right to make your own decisions about your life. While parents’ interest in their child’s welfare does not end when the child grows up and marries, it’ i sometimes hard for parents to back off and know their limits. 

How you handle the situation of your sabotaging in-laws really depends on your particular situation. While some parents are well-intentioned, other people have agendas they want met. If your spouse’s parents have problems, your spouse has grown up with those issues and has been affected by them. So your first step is to ask yourself some questions before deciding the best course of action. 

Evaluate the situation

First, look to yourself. Are you perhaps doing things that signal that their behavior is ok? For instance, if you talk to your mother-in-law about an important decision you and your partner are trying to make, you are signaling to her that you want her advice. If she is pushy or even just highly nurturing, she may try to pressure you to do what she thinks is best. Changing your behavior might solve the problem. 

Next, ask yourself: if a neutral observer were to look at their behavior, would that person see intentionally mean or sabotaging behavior, mental illness, or well-intentioned but intrusive behavior? This is important, because if their advice is coming from a position of ill-directed love, the problem will be much easier to solve. If, however, there is intentional cruelty or mental instability, more drastic measures may be necessary. 

Is your spouse aware of the behavior or your feelings about the behavior? If so, does your spouse agree with you or his/her parents? Or perhaps does not see an issue at all? 

Steps to take

If your spouse is not aware of the problem or does not realize or acknowledge your feelings, address your concerns respectfully – after all, they are your partner’s parents—but emphasize the importance of solving this problem and not denying or ignoring it. 

If after your explanation your spouse does not see a problem with the behavior or perhaps sides with his or her parents, I strongly advise marriage counseling. When you marry, each spouse’s allegiance must shift from the family to the other spouse. This is a fundamental requirement for a strong, healthy marriage. Marriage counseling can help both spouses see how beautiful it is to nurture that mutual allegiance and develop a real partnership that makes each spouse stronger and more fulfilled in life.

If your spouse does see the problem and agrees with you, decide together how to set clear boundaries of behavior. Then, together, tell them what those boundaries are, clearly and specifically. Let your spouse do the talking. Your in-laws might still blame you for it, but the message must come from their own child so they know their child sides with you and not with them. 

Ask your spouse not to discuss with your in-laws any marital decisions you are making until after the decisions have been made. That will prevent them from giving unwanted advice. Also ask that your partner not discuss you with your in-laws—certainly not to talk about any differences you may be having. This could give them ammunition to break down the bond of allegiance between you.

Your partner will have to become more aware of the behavior that causes you so much pain and become your bodyguard, insisting to his or her parents that the behavior is unacceptable. In extreme cases, it might be necessary to cut off relations with truly sabotaging in-laws.

Even if you are both forming a united front against the behavior, it might be to your advantage to have a few sessions with a trained marriage counselor to give you some pointers and renew and strengthen your relationship.

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