Dealing with Anxiety: Set Up Your Apartment for Success 

Your living arrangements can have a dramatic impact on your mood. Even the layout of your NYC apartment is important. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that apartment layouts in which rooms all branched out from a corridor were more associated with depression in women than apartments in which rooms branched out from a central living space.

We can’t easily change the apartment in which we live, but we can make adjustments to decor that can help lift the spirits and improve mood. I often suggest that my clients make changes at home to support the work we are doing in our therapy sessions. Try some of these things to help improve your mood, especially if winters are dark, dreary, or cold where you live. 

  • Bring in the light: Uncover your windows to bring in as much light as possible. In rooms where you may want privacy, such as your bedroom and bathroom, you could add interior shutters or a curtain that only covers the lower half of the window, leaving the top open to the light. Natural light also helps the circadian rhythm in the brain which sends signals to us when it’s time to unwind and sleep.
  • Change your lights: That said, light sensitivity is commonly associated with anxiety, and certain lights are very disruptive. Fluorescent lights have been found to affect melatonin (which is needed to sleep), increase panic attacks, and even induce seizures. Light from blue lightbulbs has a calming effect. This is not to be confused with the blue light emitted from technology screens, which has been proven in studies to have the same anxiety-producing and sleep-disrupting effects as fluorescent bulbs. Therefore, turn off the screen and let your brain relax. Even better, have parts of your home that are designated “technology-free.”
  • Decorate with blue: Blue light is not the only way blue can have a calming effect. Try painting your walls in blue, adding some blue pillows or a tablecloth, and maybe a wall hanging in a calming blue pattern.
  • Hide the clutter: Cluttered environments increase levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Put your technology behind a cabinet that can be closed. Remove knickknacks from your shelves so that your shelves look half empty. Thin out your closets and donate your extras to an organization that helps those less fortunate. If it’s hard to let go of things, imagine someone else’s joy in being able to use the item you are considering getting rid of. You will then have the satisfaction of helping others while you help yourself.
  • Add plants: Not only do plants help clear the air of toxins, but interacting with indoor plants by touching, smelling, and caring for them can reduce stress levels. If you’re afraid you won’t keep your plants well watered, ask someone at a plant shop which houseplants best handle neglect. Believe it or not, there are houseplants that thrive when you forget to water them for a couple of weeks. And you can always set an alarm on your phone to remind you to water your plants regularly.
  • Add soft textiles: When you’re dealing with anxiety, soft textures and cuddly blankets are calming and soothing.
  • Use scents to soothe your senses: Lavender is a well-known mood calmer. Try sachets or collections of dried lavender in a pretty bouquet next to the sofa. (As a bonus, lavender is a lovely shade of blue!) Other scents, such as lemon and grapefruit, can brighten your mood and provide positive energy. Consider potpourri or diffusers to provide an enhanced sensory experience to suit your needs. 

Try some of these easy changes to your home and see if they help reduce your anxiety. If you feel you need more help, please find an experienced therapist near you. If you live in the New York City area, reach out to see how I can help you.

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Can a Support Group Help?

When we are going through a difficult time in our lives here in New York City, we can benefit from supportive, empathetic people to share our journey with us and help lighten the load. Depending on what the issue may be, a friend, family member, or spouse may be enough to get us through. But sometimes we need others who understand what we’re going through and who have experienced what we’re experiencing, to help us walk that road and come out the other side. That’s where a support group comes in.

Whether you’re dealing with grief, abuse, anxiety, or infertility, there is a group out there for you. Your doctor or your local hospital may be able to recommend local support groups or reputable online organizations. However, a support group is not a substitute for therapy. Working one-on-one with a therapist is often necessary when overcoming deep wounds or events in your life that have affected your ability to cope.

Support groups are often peer-led groups, moderated by someone who shares a common experience with others in the group. These groups can provide you with a sense of belonging, a feeling that you are not alone, and that feeling in itself can be very therapeutic. But be careful; while a well-run support group can enhance your therapy and build upon the progress you make with your therapist, a poorly run group can devolve into individual personalities that can dominate or derail the meetings and possibly make you feel worse.  

Rather than seeking out a support group first, I recommend finding a therapist first, one who is experienced in your particular needs. Interview the potential therapist to find out his or her knowledge of your issues and what type of therapy he or she would use. A good therapist, in the initial conversation, should be able to get a sense of which method of therapy would be most helpful for you. That is not to say that the approach won’t change as therapy progresses – I sometimes make adjustments as my clients begin the process of healing and I assess that a different form of therapy would be more productive at the new stage. This ability to continually evaluate the person’s needs is a product of my empathy, intuition, and years of experience. 

Once you have begun sessions, ask your therapist about adding a support group, if you feel like you would like one. Your therapist undoubtedly knows some reliable groups that have good moderators and can enhance your therapy so that you can progress at a rapid pace toward healing and recovery. 

Find a therapist near you before joining a support group. If you are in the New York City area, feel free to reach out to see how I can help you.

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Healing From Infidelity

Infidelity in marriage is a tremendous assault on the commitment of the wedding vows. If you discover that your spouse has stepped outside the marriage, you undoubtedly have complex emotions and questions that need to be addressed. For some people, the automatic reaction is to think the marriage is over. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. If you both want to save the marriage, and there is no abuse involved, your marriage can heal. 

The emotional impact of the betrayal of infidelity

While there are many ways for a spouse to betray your trust – substance abuse, lying, financial misdeeds – cheating can feel like it is the most damaging to the relationship. You’ve been betrayed, you’re deeply hurt, and you may be hating your partner or asking yourself what you did wrong to cause him or her to cheat on you, or maybe both. 

Infidelity can cause an avalanche of emotions that can spiral into other areas of your life. You no longer feel like you can trust your spouse, but this distrust can spread to others, as well, making you feel like you can’t trust anyone or anything anymore. You may find your work performance affected because of sadness, anger, or brain fog. You may become testier with the kids, or more clingy. It’s imperative that your emotions be addressed and healed.

But what about the offending partner? Your spouse is likely feeling deep shame as well as remorse for having hurt you. Your unfaithful spouse may be fearful that all is lost, that you will leave and take the kids. Conversely, in some cases, the spouse may compensate by blaming you for your past failures to justify the affair. This kind of behavior can make it even harder to save a marriage after betrayal. It is important to remember that infidelity can seem inexcusable, but that doesn’t mean you may not have things you need to address, too. It’s a painful road to walk, but I have seen marriages become stronger after infidelity than they were before.

How to work to heal your relationship

The shock of discovering infidelity may cause you to feel lost, confused, and alone. You may want to talk to someone, but sometimes people really cannot be trusted with this information – they won’t understand your complex emotions and will offer advice or opinions that may not help you and may actually hurt your chances of recovery.

That said, keeping your discovery to yourself may increase your feelings of loneliness, pain, and isolation. You need someone trustworthy in whom you can confide your feelings. Some people have a close friend or relative who can provide unconditional love, an ear to listen, and a heart to not judge, but unfortunately, some people do not. Whether you have that special person or not, a marriage counselor can be just the right person to provide this support, while also having the training, experience, and expertise to guide you and your spouse through the recovery process.

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I help couples through difficult times in their lives, such as infertility or infant loss, troubled marriages, and infidelity. Couples heal best when they have someone with experience to guide them through the difficult conversations that must be had. My orientation is in psychodynamics and cognitive behavioral therapy, in which I guide couples, both individually and together, to find the underlying causes of the issues that may have led to the betrayal and through the steps to recovery. 

If you are willing to forgive, and if your spouse is ready to recommit to the marriage, find a marriage counselor in your area who has experience with helping couples recover from betrayal. Interview the counselor first. It’s critical that you can relate to him or her and trust their approach to marriage therapy. If you are in the NYC area, give me a call. I’d be happy to talk to you about how I can help.

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How to Heal Your Relationship

Are you and your spouse at odds and unhappy, but want to stay together? Make 2024 your year to address these issues and find loving, mutually supportive solutions. As a psychotherapist in New York City working with couples, I have seen many couples who were in troubled relationships recover the love that seemed lost in their marriage. It is possible, if you are both committed to it.

Look at yourself first

Though it’s hard to admit, sometimes we need to start with “fixing” ourselves. Couples therapy should include a little soul-searching, and you might find that some of the triggers that your spouse always seems to be able to hit are actually rooted in past experiences in your life that hurt you. Your spouse may be accidentally reminding you of those past events and you may be responding, unconsciously, to that earlier stimulus. In therapy, it is important to identify clues that there might be something deeper going on. 

There may also be something else going on, such as stress at work, that may be causing you to be more on edge. External stressors are extremely important to consider when doing couples therapy. We can look into those, as well.  

Both spouses will need to examine their behaviors to see how they may be contributing to the turmoil. Be prepared to humbly recognize that you both need to change, and be committed to making those changes, for the good of your marriage and the good of each other. 

Learn how to communicate

My experience has shown me that the biggest issue couples have is communication. When couples develop the skills to properly communicate their feelings and their wishes, they are more able to resolve problems amicably, to the benefit of their marriage and family.

Communication is very complex, involving not just the choice of words, but also the tone of voice, body language, pauses, and more. Perhaps even more important in communication is the ability to listen. If the other person does not know how to listen effectively, communication literally will not take place. If you say one thing but your spouse “hears” the opposite, either because of your tone of voice or body language, or because of your spouse’s past experiences, you have not been able to communicate. 

Most of us listen in order to know how to respond, instead of listening in order to understand. When one is seeking to understand, one asks clarifying questions – sincere questions, not “gotcha” questions – so that deeper understanding can be reached. 

Learning communication skills is one of the most important aspects of couples therapy. Once you and your spouse master this skill, you will hear what the other one is saying, you will be able to discuss issues constructively, and most importantly, you will find that the other spouse is working just as hard to resolve the issue by focusing on listening.

Household and financial management

Finances and childrearing are two of the most common causes of disagreements in marriage. Another is taking care of the home. Financial decisions and housekeeping tend to be fairly easily addressed, once healthy communication has been developed. 

One’s attitude towards child rearing is often rooted in one’s own childhood experiences and one’s values, which cannot be easily compromised. Often, when we dig into the roots of disagreements, awareness of past childhood experiences and how they affect your present disagreements can provide insight into the foundations of your child-rearing goals and style, as well. With this knowledge, I work together with couples to find a compromise that can benefit both the couple and their children. 

Spend time together and apart

It’s important to nurture your relationship as a couple, independent of the children or the home. In other words, get out of the house together on a regular basis. It could be dinner or a movie, walking or biking, visiting museums, or going to a show. Find something you both enjoy or take turns introducing your spouse to something you love. For instance, if your spouse is into motorcycles and you are into classical music, go on a date to a motorcycle race and have your spouse explain why it’s so interesting and exciting. Then on your next date, go to a concert, explaining the composer and the musical pieces to your spouse ahead of time so that he or she can understand and appreciate it better at the concert. 

You should also spend time alone, doing something that fuels you. This quiet time can help you unwind, recharge, and appreciate your family all the more. 

If you and your spouse are in the NYC area and are looking to heal a troubled relationship or even strengthen a good one, reach out to see how I can help you.

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Is Your Marriage Stuck in a Rut? How to Get the Momentum Back

It is common for a couple to find themselves falling into life routines that cause a sense of boredom and monotony in their marriage. The day-in-day-out sameness of modern life seems to suck the joy out of the relationship and can lead to a sense of discontent. Focus can be drawn away from each other and toward work and raising children, causing the couple to forget that they ARE a couple and that the commitments to work and care for children are products of their commitment to each other. Your relationship matters, and it comes first. The first step is one of discovery – the discovery of each other.

Discuss your feelings

Are you the only one who is feeling bored or stuck? You may be trying to tell your parter how you feel and how you do that matters in order to avoid conflict. Try sharing your thoughts while doing something you both enjoy, like taking a hike. Express that you feel like your marriage has gotten a little stuck and ask if he or she feels the same way. Make sure to check in with your partner by asking if they are open to having a talk so that they aren’t caught off guard.

You may get a variety of answers. Your partner may say no, they haven’t noticed anything, which may indicate that they still feel the same way about you as they did in the early days. They might say yes, and share that they’re worried about work or finances, or something else, again suggesting their feelings for you are unchanged and that they’re just distracted. Finally, they may say yes and tell you some things that have been bothering them that do have something to do with you.

Whatever the answer is, you can grow from the knowledge. If they still feel the same flame, you can discuss ways you’re feeling in a rut and discuss things you can do together to help you both feel that fire again. If they’re distracted by other pressures, talk about ways you can both unwind together. If there are some relationship issues, knowing them means you can begin to work on them. Depending on what they are, consider finding a counselor to help you work through them.

Remember why you fell in love

To start rekindling the flame, take some time to reminisce together about the early days. Look at old photos, relive the happy memories, and laugh together. Snuggle together while you’re doing this. Touch is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. It doesn’t always have to lead to sex – in fact, a healthy relationship includes many instances of non-sexual touching. Touch is the most primordial and the most personal of all our senses and reaches our hearts. Combined with happy memories, it will help embed those positive emotions deeper into our relationships.

Pursue each other again

When you were dating, you were in a rhythm of pursuing and enticing into pursuit. While we traditionally think of the man in pursuit of the woman, both in their own way are chasing and drawing each other into the chase. Once the couple is married, this process often stops, and that’s what can cause the couple to feel bored and stuck. 

That ongoing give and take of the chase can continue even after you’re married, even after many years and when the children are grown up. Date nights can involve getting dressed up and going out together, but it can also be taking a quiet walk together or watching a favorite movie with a glass of wine and the lights dimmed. 

Another element to help increase a connection is acts of kindness. One partner gets the other one coffee; one brings home a rose for the other; a tired parent gets to relax while the other takes the kids out, etc. You’re touching each other’s heart with these thoughtful acts.

Maybe intellectual pursuits or the arts are something you both enjoy. Then you can share a book or a visit to the art museum and discuss the characters, the motive, or the deeper points the author or artist may be trying to make.

Find common activities

In our busy modern life, couples often spend most of their waking hours apart. This is one of the reasons they tend to drift. Make a conscious decision to do things together to increase your positive shared experiences. 

Come up with a few fun things to do together and do at least one weekly. If you can find a hobby that you both enjoy, especially one that provides exercise and the great outdoors, you will be strengthening both your relationship and your health at the same time. 

An even more fulfilling activity could be serving others less fortunate. Working together to make life better for others can provide a sense of purpose. This can also greatly benefit your children because they will see their parents working together for a good cause, which instills in them the importance of service, it strengthens the marriage, and it shows the children an example of what a good marriage looks like. 

Your love can be enhanced and be even stronger than before after you work together to rekindle the joy and attraction that you had in the early days of your relationship. You have years of experiences that you’ve gone through together, and you’ve shown each other that you truly are committed to each other, good times and bad, and are willing to work for the marriage. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that someone else is willing to fight for your love.

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Late-term Pregnancy Loss

Losing a child is one of the most excruciating pains anyone can experience. Miscarriage also involves the loss of a child, but unfortunately, society does not generally give the same level of sympathy to parents after miscarriage as to those who lose a child at birth or after. This often exacerbates the terrible grief parents feel. Most couples benefit from the help of a counselor who has experience in pregnancy and fertility issues to help them grieve and reach wholeness again.

How miscarriage is different from other loss

The death of a loved one is always painful, but in most cases, you have memories of the person to give you some comfort as time goes by. With miscarriage and stillbirth, it is the future that has been taken from you, with your only memories being those of anticipation. 

When your baby dies before birth, you feel robbed of the future as well as the past. Both parents bond with the baby in their own way and after a miscarriage you leave the hospital empty-handed, with no days of future joy together to look forward to. The grief can seem truly unbearable. 

In our culture, we unfortunately, do not have an established tradition for acknowledging the loss of a child pre-birth that allows the parents to publicly grieve and receive sympathy. Thus, most people who have not experienced this kind of loss do not know how to respond and even with the best intentions, their comforting words may feel painful. Perhaps worse, they may act as if your loss is not very serious. 

Commonly, people may ask questions, like when you will “try again,” as if your child was just “something” you were “trying” to accomplish. Or they will offer advice on what you should do differently to prevent miscarriage next time. Though generally well-intended, these comments can be salt in your wound.

Beyond how others treat you, there is the issue of how you treat yourself. Everyone handles grief and trauma differently, but most people go through what are commonly defined as “the five phases of grief” and when pregnancy loss is involved, parents often turn in on themselves in the process.

Working through the stages of grief

The five stages of grief are generally listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone goes through all these stages and not always in this order, and some are experienced simultaneously. But it’s important to recognize them and work through them in a healthy manner. Again, a trained counselor can be instrumental in this process. 

Denial may present itself as isolation. You may not want to admit to yourself or to others that you have lost your child, so you isolate yourself in order not to face it. Being alone is sometimes necessary to help us process, so rather than hiding, turn your isolation into personal time. Don’t leave your partner out of this period of isolation, either. Be alone together, at least part of the time, holding each other and acknowledge your love for each other, even if you spend most of your time in silence.

Anger is a powerful emotion that appears when we feel we have experienced a grave injustice. Surely, losing a child feels like the most unfair thing that could possibly happen. Seeking some explanation for this injustice and someone to blame, you may turn your anger upon your own body for failing to keep your child safe. You may blame your parter for doing something wrong, or blame the doctor for not doing the right tests to prevent this. You may turn your rage upon anyone who says the wrong thing. If you do discover a reason for the miscarriage, the “blame game” can really ramp up. In most cases, however, pregnancy loss is no one’s fault. Sometimes, it just happens. 

In order to overcome this anger, you must constantly remind yourself that nothing was intentional: your doctor didn’t intentionally refrain from offering you a test that may have revealed a problem; your body didn’t purposely develop the condition that led to the miscarriage; your mother or best friend didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and was probably trying to help. This is the first step to forgiveness, which is the only way to overcome the darkness of anger. 

Bargaining can include making a “deal” with God, promising to change this or that lifestyle decision if He would just let you have a healthy delivery next time. Or you could just bargain with yourself that if you eat better and exercise, you could prevent another miscarriage. Healthy food and exercise are always good choices, but choose them in order to be healthier, not with the sole goal in mind of avoiding pregnancy loss, because that keeps your mind always focused on the pain of the past.

Depression can set in when you feel like you are helpless to prevent another miscarriage, when you feel like you aren’t getting pregnant again fast enough, or when you feel that another baby will never replace the baby you lost. 

Depression due to pregnancy loss should be handled with the same sensitivity as with any depression, and often with some of the same solutions. Try to get out in the fresh air, especially in nature. Participate in fun activities like exercising with your parter in order to build up the happy memories from interests that you share together. Talk to a counselor who has expertise in depression, especially depression caused by miscarriage. And the mother should keep in mind that some of these emotions are actually associated with sudden hormone changes, which should make it easier to forgive yourself for the anger and depression and help you overcome it.

Please remember that you don’t have to go through the grief of miscarriage alone. If you are in the New York City area, reach out to see how I can help you.

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Adoption as an Option

As a couples therapist and marriage counselor in New York City, I see many couples who struggle with infertility. Fortunately, a variety of medical interventions have been developed in recent years that help some couples conceive their own child; however, these treatments are usually quite expensive, can be very stressful, and sadly, do not work for everyone. Some couples find themselves wondering what other options they have. One of those options is adoption.

Adoption is an option that works for many couples. Giving a safe, happy home to a child who otherwise would not have one can bring a sense of joy and satisfaction to a couple, as well as finally having a child to nurture and love. So many adoptive parents gratefully think, “What would have happened to our child, had we not adopted?” The benefits of adoption are many. But it’s important to be cautious and take a number of steps to determine if adoption is right for you. 

Deciding you’re ready to adopt

Before adopting, it’s important to complete the grieving process of not being able to conceive your own biological child. Your heart and mind need to be ready for, and excited about adopting your child after coming to terms with not being able to give birth to your child.

It’s normal for one spouse to be ready to adopt before the other. We all grieve differently, and we all have different ideas about what adoption is like. I often encourage couples to seek out people they know who have adopted. There are always bumps in parenting, whether your child is biological or adopted, so don’t be surprised by stories of complications in the adoption process. Talk to parents about how much their adopted child means to them, and you will likely discover great joy and gratitude for the child. 

Initial steps in adoption

When you’re both ready to adopt, start asking yourself questions. You will both need to agree on these decisions. I often recommend couples think about these questions separately and then discuss them together. Any areas of concern or disagreement can be discussed in a counseling session.

  • Do you want to adopt a newborn, a young child, or an older child?
  • Are you willing to adopt a child with disabilities?
  • Are you willing to adopt a child of a different race or religion?
  • Do you want a U.S. adoption, or are you open to international adoption?
  • Are you willing to have an open adoption arrangement, in which the birth mother has some contact with the child or is at least kept informed about the child?

Once you have answered these questions and any other questions that may arise as you talk, begin researching adoption agencies or looking into private attorneys who specialize in adoption. You need to determine which is best for your needs. You can also ask for recommendations from people you know who have adopted a child.

Be wary of unscrupulous organizations or individuals who take advantage of couples and birth mothers. Red flags include being unlicensed, not having sufficient answers to questions on screening of birth mothers, emotional manipulation, and mothers asking for money directly. 

Before you make any decisions about the best agency or attorney to choose, talk with a marriage counselor who has experience helping couples navigate the emotional and psychological aspects of the adoption process. Adoption can trigger a lot of emotional stress, and it’s good to have an expert support you with this important, life-changing decision. If you are in the NYC area, contact me to see how I can help you.

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When Parents Disagree About Parenting Decisions

It is common for parents to disagree on how to discipline their children, at least in some areas. Sometimes parents’ styles don’t differ greatly and they’re able to work out the minor differences. It’s actually healthy for children to see different styles in their parents, as long as the parents remain partners in the hard work of raising their children in a loving home. But when parents disagree strongly, problems can arise, both for the children and for the parents’ marriage. 

Big differences in parenting style

Parenting differences are often driven by upbringing and personality type. If you’re an easygoing person or a person who wants to avoid conflict, you may be a more permissive parent. Permissive parents tend to use reminding, repeating, or giving in, which can devolve into nagging, begging, arguing with the child, using guilt, or ignoring bad behavior in the hope it will go away. 

If you tend to have a strong personality or a temper, you may be a more authoritative parent. This may include having unbending rules and using negative reinforcement as the primary form of discipline, with little room for discussion with the child. This can devolve into yelling, harsh punishment, shaming, and being feared by your child. 

Sometimes our parenting styles are affected by our own upbringing. For instance, if your parents had an authoritative style, you might mimic that style. However, if you feel scarred by that form of parenting, you may swing too far in the other direction and become too permissive, which comes with its own negative baggage.

Neither of these extremes is healthy. If you or your spouse have fallen into any of these ruts, it’s important to sit down together to work them out. You may need a neutral party, such as a counselor trained in helping parents and couples, to work through your differences in order to find a healthy balance, for both your children and yourselves. 

What not to do when you disagree

It’s very important that you don’t disagree in front of the children. Children can usually pick up on unspoken signals, and you may not be able to prevent that. Don’t argue in front of them or undermine your spouse’s authority in the children’s eyes by contradicting him or her in front of them. Find a chance to talk together. If the cause is urgent, you may want to say, “Honey, can we talk about this first?” and step into another room and quietly discuss. You can then come back together and suggest a revised discipline decision, with both of you standing behind it. 

If you can’t find common ground on a particular issue, do not play your child against your spouse. Never make it an “us versus Dad” or “us versus Mom” atmosphere! This is so unhealthy for the child. Your children need to love and respect both of you. There is almost always a positive way to discuss your spouse’s decision with your child. 

For instance, if your child is crying to you because Daddy grounded him for a week, even if you thought that was too big a punishment, it’s best to offer sympathy while also supporting your husband – something along the lines of, “I know that seems like a long time but Daddy loves you, and the rules were clear. It’s important to us that you understand what you did.” You may be able to suggest to your husband that he talk to your child halfway through that week, see if your child has learned his lesson, and possibly “commute” his sentence. This can actually work very well to help the child see Dad’s love and mercy in cutting the punishment short. 

Keeping your marriage strong

Remember, through all of this, that the best thing you can do for your children is to have a healthy, loving marriage. They need to see you two as a team, working together, loving each other, and loving them. You should talk together about how to handle disagreements. For instance, you won’t likely be able to ask your spouse to step into another room to discuss disciplining unless you have already agreed on parameters. Such a move should be used very minimally and only when a major situation is taking place. Most discipline decisions can wait until later to be discussed.

When you begin to discuss, try first to discover why you each have those parenting styles and what buttons the kids are pushing that might cause some of your decisions. Discovering these points can also strengthen your marriage, as you begin to understand each other better and maybe understand how you two might be accidentally pushing each other’s buttons, as well. 

Next, look at the big picture: What qualities do you want your children to have when they grow up? What matters are most important to you? Religion, family, work ethic, kindness?

With these parameters in mind, decide some non-negotiables you can agree on: what time the teenagers have to be home on weeknights and weekends; showing respect to parents and others; safety matters such as going near the road or playing near the pond unsupervised. These are important issues that should be firmly established, maybe even written down where the children can see them. 

Others may be firm but can adjust under circumstances, such as always having homework done by a certain time. Things may come up that require flexibility, but you can have a general rule.

Then discuss the hot topics that you disagree on the most. For instance, you both agree that you want your child to learn responsibility, but you have different ideas about how. One thinks a child should learn the hard way: when he forgets to do his chores, he loses privileges. The other wants to remind him, so he has time to learn. This is where negotiation and cooperation need to come into play in your parenting.

Talking through discipline differences will not only help you improve your parenting, it should improve your marriage, as well. If you find you need help with this, find an experienced parenting or couples counselor to guide you through this important step. If you live in the NYC area, feel free to reach out to me.

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Nothing in Common with Your Spouse?

So you’ve been married for a while and you realize you have no interests in common. You’re only talking about the kids or work or what needs to be done around the house. While this might seem distressing when you first realize it, it is not uncommon in marriages, including long-term, successful marriages. As a marriage counselor and psychotherapist, I have helped many couples in the New York City area find their way in this new normal and build new experiences together. 

Take inventory

All marriages go through seasons. One or both of you may be shifting a bit in interests, tastes, and abilities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re drifting apart. The key is to find what brought you two together and work from there. Spend time together remembering your early months and years, what attracted you to each other, and reminisce about happy events in your early days. Doing this will help remind you of your bond of love. 

Be honest

Next, be honest with each other about your limited shared interests – not in an accusatory way, but in a way of discovery. Take the time to inventory your interests, opinions, and preferences. Talk about what you share, including the kids and various marital experiences. You may find that you actually do have things in common, they just need to be emphasized or appreciated more. 

Explore each other’s interests

After inventorying, see what things you can get interested in together. For instance, if one is really interested in cars and the other is interested in cooking, try finding out what makes this topic so interesting. Attend a car show together, or watch a cooking show together and choose a fun recipe to prepare as a couple. 

If you’re interested in fitness but your spouse is sedentary, find out if there’s a reason. Maybe your spouse doesn’t feel like there’s enough time in a busy day to exercise. Could you take a nice walk around the block after dinner instead of watching TV? While walking you can talk, listen to a favorite podcast together, or just silently enjoy the fresh air and scenery. Or maybe a bad back makes your spouse hesitant to exercise. If your spouse is willing, work together to find a fitness regime that strengthens other parts of the body. Working out together, even if it’s just stretches, is fun and releases happy hormones that can not only enhance your mood but strengthen your relationship as well. 

You could find a new hobby you both like or develop more shared experiences. Take trips together; pick up ballroom dancing; find a favorite restaurant and try a different menu item each time you visit. Or find out what your spouse likes about an activity and find another activity that includes that element. For instance, if your spouse likes building engines, maybe you could both build something together you’d both enjoy, like a piece of furniture or a series of birdhouses that attract different birds.  

Let it be

A final option is to just let it be. This is a great time to practice acceptance of the other and even celebrate your differences. Just make sure you turn into each other rather than drift apart. If you’d like someone to help guide you as a couple through this time of discovery, give me a call. I can help you navigate to a new place of shared experiences and mutual appreciation.

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Forgiving Yourself and Moving Forward

The old saying, “To err is human, to forgive, divine” has a great deal of truth to it. We all make mistakes, both large and small, and most of us have been taught as children to acknowledge our mistakes and ask for the forgiveness of someone we have hurt. We are also taught to be willing to forgive others when they hurt us. However, we are rarely taught to extend that same forgiveness to ourselves. Because of this, by the time we’re adults, most of us have accumulated a significant amount of personal guilt that can affect the way we feel about ourselves and the way we interact with others. 

Forgiving ourselves can seem more difficult than forgiving others. As a psychotherapist with a background in social work, I have helped many people develop the skills it takes to forgive themselves and move on. Below I highlight some basic steps to self-forgiveness. 

Why is forgiving ourselves so difficult? It’s because we believe we have failed in our own self-identity or our strongly-held values. We are angry at ourselves for that failure, but we’re also disappointed, ashamed, even humiliated. When we feel this way, we might try to suppress these feelings in order to cope, or we may constantly play the mistake over and over in our minds, further punishing ourselves. Both tendencies are very self-destructive. 

While you may feel that you deserve to be punished and are thus inflicting that punishment upon yourself, what you actually deserve is compassion – that same compassion that you were taught to extend to others who regret their mistakes.

Face your mistakes objectively

The first step to self-forgiveness and moving forward is to think through exactly what happened that has caused you the regret. Think it through and write it down in a nonbiased, objective way. Include all extenuating circumstances. Do not use inflammatory or emotional terms such as “I then stupidly said…” Keep it objective – “I replied…”

Write down the kinds of thought patterns that you tend to fall into. When certain stimuli occur, do you remember your past regret and start to relive it? Do you start the “I’m such a horrible person” record playing over and over in your head? Do you take a physical action of self-harm, like start to pull on your hair or drink alcohol when you start to feel terrible? Examine your actions, both mental and physical. You may want to keep your notebook handy so you can write down your responses in real-time, next time you have thoughts of regret.

Next, acknowledge that you are not perfect. You are continually learning, just as we all are. Write down what you wish you had known then and what you know now – specifically, what you learned from this mistake. This infuses the mistake with purpose and gives you the knowledge you need to avoid the same mistake in the future. 

Finally, consider what you might be able to do to make amends. Is there someone you need to apologize to? If you caused physical damage, perhaps by stealing something, can you replace the item? If it’s not possible to make reparation to the particular person or repair the actual damage, can you make a contribution or perform an act of charity in that person’s honor? Think about something concrete that can demonstrate your act of acknowledging your mistake, making amends, and moving forward. 

Once you’ve gone through this evaluation, go through it all out loud. Describe out loud the mistake that you made, acknowledge your emotions, and state out loud the coping mechanisms you have developed around it. State what you plan to do to make amends and what lessons you learned about yourself and about life that you hope to apply in the future. Also, state out loud that you will be gentle with yourself if you fall into this mistake again. This is common when we have a personality weakness, such as anger, which cannot be eliminated overnight. Declare that you will continue to work to learn the opposite virtue, in this case, patience, and what you will do when you fail in the future: immediately acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and grow. 

It’s important to do this out loud. This helps create a definite space in time that you can orient your life around. “On this day, at this time, I acknowledged my mistakes and my feelings and learned to forgive myself.” With this time period as a definite moment in the past, you can begin to move forward. If you have a good friend whom you trust, you can do this with him or her, making the event even more memorable. This is your chance to start turning over a new leaf. 

Ongoing self-forgiveness

You have taken the most important first step. Now you will need to guard against falling back into the patterns of thought and behavior in the future, as you continue to grow and learn how to become the person that you aspire to be. 

Develop the skills to interrupt your negative thought patterns, silencing your inner critic. Show yourself the same compassion that you would show a friend if he or she were in your situation. Take a lesson from mindful parenting techniques, and tell yourself, “I don’t love what you did, but I love you. We can fix this.” 

Speak to a professional. Some people find comfort in speaking to a spiritual authority, such as a priest or other religious leader. This can provide help from a spiritual perspective, which can often lift much of the burden, especially if you feel you need to make amends with God. Even in these cases, following up with a professional counselor is often an important step. 

If you are in the New York City area and you need help with this process or with replacing negative thought patterns with positive, self-affirming thoughts, contact me.

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