Is your Relationship More Important than Game of Thrones?

Source: Jacob Lund/canva.com

Source: Jacob Lund/canva.com

So I have this bad habit of rolling into the garage, turning off the engine, closing the garage door and just sitting there, looking at my phone. Eventually, the car’s reading lights turn off, the garage light follows and it’s pitch dark. Usually after 15-min or so, if my husband is home, I’ll hear a lot of commotion as he races down the stairs to look for me. Today, that did not happen.

I scrambled up the stairs carrying five different bags, all the while I could hear the TV. Well, we don’t have a TV, more like HBO NOW. Must be an important show, I thought. Upon seeing me, husband realized that I’m back, paused his show, and came to help me unload. He then gave me a quick hug and a kiss and promptly went back to the couch. Probably Game of Thrones. Important stuff. And his greeting made me feel loved.

It’s possible to have both.

Your coming

Did you know that how you come and go matters in relationships? Suppose you’ve been apart from your partner for the day, how do you come back together again? What would it be like if you and your partner greeted each other with a simple, “Welcome home!”? Maybe it’s a peek on the cheek, a squeeze, a “Hi Hon!” or whatever else. This brief moment of connection can be grounding as you go about your evening, knowing that you’re wanted and welcomed by your VIP.

Your going

The same is true when you leave the house in the morning. You’re rushing, getting the kids ready, barely have time to eat and your partner says goodbye and blows you a kiss. Or, your partner stands by that familiar window and sends you off. No time for long drawn-out hugs, but you know you’re loved nonetheless. How would that change the way you go about the world?!

Do you have 30-seconds?

These brief moments of hello’s and goodbye’s can be very anchoring for your relationship. Rituals that you and your partner develop overtime to help you stay connected are buffers against the more challenging times. You may NOT feel like pausing the TV, taking a break from the stovetop, or interrupting a conversation to offer that quick wink or side hug, but trust me, it does make a difference. It reminds you that you matter to each other and of the good that is in your relationship.

From that place, go back to Game of Thrones, dinner, Skype call or launch into conversations about your day, finances and kids’ schedules. Unknowingly, you’re strengthening your relationship one hello and goodbye at a time.


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. While her husband has offered for them to watch the first six seasons of Game of Thrones together so she can be all caught up, she had to decline when she couldn’t even finish the movie Logan. She appreciates her husband’s thoughtfulness though.

When Misery Rejects Company

Warning: this post is mostly pictures

A late start

Last month, husband and I were able to take two weeks off and do a road trip to UT. We stayed up past midnight packing and we even loaded our camping gear into the trunk. In the middle of the night, I woke up briefly with a sore throat. By the morning, I’ve developed a fever. Things were not going as planned.

I told my husband we could leave after a day when really, I wasn’t well. We ended up staying home for an additional two days. In the meantime, husband rerouted our whole trip given less time on the road and varying weather. He also wanted to make sure we put more difficult hikes at the end to give me time to recover. By the time we hit the road, I was fever-less but sick nonetheless.

As you can imagine, I didn’t want to burden my husband with my illness, let alone shorten our trip any further. Not wanting him to join me in my misery, I was fighting to get better.

It doesn’t end here.

Rocks everywhere!

Bryce

Bryce

I’ve never been to UT and the geology was ah-mazing! My friend from Seattle warned me that it would be jaw-dropping for the first few days, then we’d crave Washington’s greenery. This was NOT the case. We loved every moment of it!

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef

Our first stop was Bryce Canyon National Park and it was unbelievable! The crimson-colored hoodoos are magnificent! My iPhone doesn’t do it justice.

Capitol Reef was a beautiful surprise. We didn’t know what to expect. The ranger talk was most memorable as we learned about the rock formations.

 

At The Arches, it was SO windy I thought I was going to get blown over the cliff! It was of course gorgeous and we saw much of the park.

By now, I’ve suffered some coughing episodes in high elevation but am otherwise 85% well. Zion was our last stop and we had dinner at Oscar’s Cafe. There, I noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Limping patrons

Over the course of my portobello avocado salad, I saw two patrons who were limping in and out of the restaurant at different times. I told my husband my observations and he found it hard to believe. Little did we know we’d talk about this the next day.

The Narrows

We hiked the famous Narrows, a slot canyon which involved wading through water up to waist deep. It was magnificent! From the “bottom up,” we took a detour to the Veiled Falls and went a little past the Floating Rock.

We fell into the water a few times and took a ton of pictures. I said to my husband, “Why can’t all hikes be like this?!” By the time we were done, and we spent a whole day there, we were, no pun intended, spent. As we got off the shuttle, I noticed something.

Limping husband

“Husband, what’s going on? Are you okay?!”

“I think I might have sprained my foot!”

Then we were reminded of the limping patrons outside of Oscar’s and we laughed our way back to the car. For the rest of the trip, husband didn’t want to hold my hand when we were walking, which was unusual. He was uncomfortable holding onto me when he was struggling. When I did have his hand, I could feel his limp more and I felt bad that he wasn’t well.

We were glad to end our trip with this last hike.

Are you “limping”?

Sometimes we go through life limping along, thinking we need to will ourselves to be well. Or, we push our partners away as to not burden them. Could it be that your partner WANTS to be there for you, but it’s hard to let them feel your pain? In a close relationship, your partner WILL feel your pain and you theirs.

What if you can go through an illness, a sprained foot and other stressors TOGETHER, rather than alone? Your partner is already affected and wants in. Will you let them hold your hand?!

If you need help navigating through life stressors as a couple, I'll be here

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. Today, no kidding, she happens to be limping because she’s breaking into some new dress shoes. She bought those shoes with her husband. She wonders what he has to say about that and whether he’ll hold her hand.

When Couples Counseling isn’t Right for you

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

When I think about how it might be inappropriate to offer you something, I have your best interest at heart. While it seems mean to say, “No Couples Counseling for you!” (and I would never say it in that way), those words come to mind based on the Soup Nazi espisode in Seinfeld. Stressed but determined, George almost didn’t get his delectable soup the second time around:

Now enough about soup. When is it inappropriate to offer you couples therapy? Borrowing from the traditions of Emotionally Focused Therapy, here are four situations when couples counseling wouldn’t be right for you. If you find yourself in one or more of these situations, don’t lose heart. I’m including resources for you to get help.

Domestic violence

Couples therapy, no matter what form it takes, requires both partners to feel safe and vulnerable with each other. In an abusive relationship where there’s power and control over the intimate partner, it would be inappropriate and risky to ask the abused partner to open up. It is important to note that abuse does not always translate to bruises; rather a partner can feel threatened, degraded and intimated by the other. It’s one thing to dread the next fight because it means you won’t be talking for days; it’s another to be afraid of your partner.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, please consider getting help at LifeWire, New Beginnings, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and DAWN.

Substance abuse

If there’s a problematic drug or alcohol use and one or both partners come to sessions high or inebriated, then we need to first of all address the substance abuse. If the addicted partners acknowledge the problem and are willing to get the kind of treatment necessary for their level of use, then couples work can be reconsidered. Together, we can get a sense of how the substance use is impacting the relationship and how relationship dynamics are feeding into the use.

If you need help staying clean and sober, Dafna Chen, MA, LMHC, CDP and Caitlin Vincent, MS, LMFT, CDP are trained Chemical Dependency Professionals and can steer you in the right direction. Dafna provides substance use counseling while Caitlin provides mental health counseling with knowledge and experience in chemical dependency.

Extramarital affairs

As you can imagine, the basic premise of couples counseling is about helping partners feel close again. If there’s an active threat of a 3rd party outside of the relationship, that makes it difficult to build trust and connection. It’s like doing couples therapy when the fire alarm is going off: it just doesn’t work. If there’s an acknowledgement of the affair and a willingness to put an end to it, then we can talk about reestablishing that bond between you and your partner.

And because I don’t keep secrets, I also cannot proceed with couples counseling if your partner asks and you adamantly deny a fling in the history of your relationship. How can either of you trust me if I side with one and keep secrets from the other? In this case, a one-off individual session is often necessary to help determine what you really want happen in your relationship.

On a slightly different note, if you find it difficult to end an affair or feel a lot of shame around compulsive sexual behaviors, Sam Louie, MA, LMHC, CDPT, S-PSB can help. Sam is a specialist in problematic sexual behaviors and he can bring you out of this secret life and onto the path of recovery. 

Separating couples

It goes without saying that if one of you is no longer invested in the relationship and want out, then couples counseling is not right for you. However, if you want couples therapy to help you get along better as you plan on separating, Emotionally Focused Therapy is very appropriate. I can help you notice what went wrong in your relationship and how to relate more healthfully as ex-partners.

If you’re not sure whether you’d want to stay together, discernment counseling might be more suitable for you. Discernment counseling is short-term counseling designed to help you and your partner decide whether to save or move on from your marriage. Some local discernment counselors include Mary Kelleher, MS, LMFT, PhD, Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA, and Brittany Steffen, MS, LMFT. Mary, Liz and Brittany can help you and your partner understand what contributed to your problems and find clarity on how to proceed.

When couples counseling is appropriate

For couples who are committed but struggling to make their relationship work, Emotionally Focused Therapy can help you become more available, responsive and engaged with your partner. I sometimes consider couples who do life with each other day in and day out and how much more enjoyable life would be if their interactions were not colored by anxiety and anger, criticism and defensiveness. Let me know if you’d want life to be different.


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and upcoming, a road trip to UT! Stay tune for more tales about their relationship on the road! (Husband is embarrassed and hides).

 

Relationship Drama - Part II

More Relationship Drama People Bloom Counseling Redmond

It takes two

In my last post, I wrote about the relationship drama from the lens of a pursuer. It takes two to dance; two to make a relationship work. Often times, couples come into my office and they see their partner as the problem. “She’s always nagging me!” “He’s like a brick wall; I can’t get through to him!” Both look to me to change their partner so that things can be better. And even if each of them can see their part in it, there’s always the push of, “You change first!” “No, you first!”

To see that pursuers are not the only one in the relationship dynamic, consider this Lacoste ad:

Dramatic, but it’s true.

When a desire for closeness looks different

Here, Paul Hamy portrays a young man reaching for his first kiss. On the outside, he looks hesitant and shy. On the inside, we see this reach as synonymous as leaping out of a tall building. SO much vulnerability. SO much risk in moving towards his partner and wondering if she’ll take him in; if she’ll catch him and reach back.

“What’s the big deal?” you might think, until you recall what it was like to move towards your partner. To your partner, you try to look cool and collected. Internally, you know the risk and you’re already protecting yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, it’s not that big of a deal!”

Introducing withdrawers

For every pursuer in a relationship, there’s a withdrawer. While sometimes it’s not so clear cut, withdrawers tend to be the quieter ones in the relationship. They might be analytical, quick to problem solve, and when that doesn’t work, they withdraw.

You might be a withdrawer if you respond to your partner by:

  • offering solutions
  • talking rationally
  • becoming defensive
  • avoiding conflict or shutting down

On the surface you feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • judged or criticized
  • angry
  • shame

While this is not easily accessible, underneath you feel:

  • inadequate
  • unsafe
  • rejected or unimportant
  • fear of losing your partner

What you really want is:

  • acceptance
  • significance
  • peace in the relationship

If that’s you, what you’re experiencing is very normal.

Your experience makes sense to me

Some of the closest people in my life tend towards withdrawing and I get you. You feel like, “I can’t do anything right!” and it’s hard to let your partner down. Your retreating might be a way to protect yourself from criticism and your relationship from getting worse. You don’t want to rock the boat and you’re afraid that reengagement might start the fight, “All over again.” On the outside you seem unaffected, but really, you’re not having the time of your life either. Perhaps you haven’t learned what it’s like to come close and be totally accepted. Or perhaps it felt okay as a kid and then life happened and it no longer feels safe to do so.

If that’s you, you don’t have to stay that way.

Healing from your partner

What we know from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) literature is that challenges from the distant or recent past can be met with healing in your most intimate relationship now. You don’t have to hold onto the hurt of feeling inadequate or insignificant. You don’t have to do this and that in order to be loved. In a committed relationship, I can help you learn to BE and find your partner here with you, reaching back.

Let me know if I can help!


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. One of their longest stroll was along the Kirkland Corridor all the way to Bellevue and back. Not used to walking that distance, they slept really well that night.

Relationship Drama – Part I

Relationship Drama People Bloom Counseling Redmond

Pop culture

I’m not the most caught up when it comes to pop culture but was recently directed to this music video, “Say Something.” It’s a piece re-recorded by Christina Aguilera in 2013. Yes, that’s exactly how not caught up I am. But the thing is, the message of love doesn’t grow old. With Ian Axel on the piano (all of this information courtesy of Google search), we sense the push and pull that’s a part of relationship drama:  

Our need for closeness in relationships

One way to interpret this piece of music is our longing for connection and engagement with a significant other. We’re desperate for our partner to say something, to let us know they’re still here for us. We DON’T want to quit, we DON’T want to leave or say goodbye, but it hurts TOO much to stay and NOT get a response. When we can’t get to our partner, we feel small. We feel pain, a sense of loss and loneliness in the relationship. It may come out as agitation, criticism and overtime, resignation, but really, it’s about feeling deprived, unloved and uncared for. 

Sounds dramatic? It is. To feel safe and close in our intimate relationships is a basic human need. I tear up when I consider well-meaning couples who miss each other in how they communicate love and closeness. It’s sad to see couples continue in an old pattern of relating until it’s too late and they do have to say goodbye. 

If this song speaks to you, I wonder if this could be you? 

Introducing pursuers

While there are different ways to be in relationships, a common relationship pattern is one of pursuer-withdrawer. We all yearn for connection in our relationships and pursuers try to meet that need, you guessed it, by pursuing their partner. 

You might be a pursuer if you try to get your partner’s attention and it comes out as: 

  • criticizing or complaining
  • demanding or accusing
  • controlling or close monitoring

On the surface, you feel:

  • frustrated, angry or critical
  • confused
  • desperate
  • anxious

Underneath all that “protest,” you feel: 

  • unloved, undesired or uncared for 
  • unimportant, not valued, not special 
  • alone and abandoned
  • disconnected

What you really want is: 

  • emotional connection
  • to be seen and heard 
  • to be appreciated and loved

If you look at these pointers and you say to yourself, “That sounds about right!” what are you to do?

Your responses are understandable

Know that this is NOT about what you should or shouldn’t do. Rather, your responses make a LOT of sense given the circumstances. You’re trying SO hard to reach your partner and when you don’t get the response you want, you try harder. You do more of the same because that’s all you know how. Overtime, you’re exhausted and you give up. Like the music video, you’re just too burnt out to continue and you don’t know what else to do.

If that's you, I get you. 

Speaking to your underlying fears and needs

If you’re in a safe and secure relationship, you can more easily speak to how an interaction made you feel and what it brings up for you. However, even in the absence of domestic violence, couples still feel that it’s not safe to show a more vulnerable side of themselves. That’s like me asking you to go out on a limb, and after years of practice, you’ve learned to cope and get by in your relationship without taking such risks. 

But, there’s hope. You don’t have to go at it alone. 

I help build that sense of safety

I can help you and your partner feel more safe in the relationship so you can talk about the difficult stuff. You can learn to more effectively reach for your partner in a way that doesn’t push them away. You can find closeness and connection in your relationship; it’s not too late. 

Let me know when you’re ready for the ride. And stay tune for a post about your partner, the withdrawer. 


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. Their last stroll was in the Quad admiring full bloom cherry blossoms. They were definitely not alone.

When Depression & Anxiety Come with Cancer

Let's face it. It's enough to go through cancer diagnosis and treatment, let alone the emotional ups and downs that often come with it.

Questions that might trouble you

As a result of your cancer, sometimes you have questions about the past: "Did I do something wrong to cause this cancer? Could I have prevented it?" "What if I had __________________ before it got to be too stressful? Would that have made a difference?"

Other times you might have questions about the future: "My neck hurts. Is that cancer?" Will I be able to see my granddaughter graduate from 2nd grade?" "How will my family be without me?"

While it's normal to ask these questions, often times there really isn't a way to answer them. These questions might linger if you struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Depression and anxiety post cancer

What we know from cancer research is that depression and anxiety are common symptoms during and post cancer treatment. While depression might dissipate with time, anxiety lingers as you're reminded of your cancer everyday. 

Some of these symptoms might be treatment related, but could this be you? 

You might be struggling with depression if you experience the following: 

  • feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • having little interests in things you used to enjoy
  • sleeping too much or too little or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • having low energy 
  • having little appetite or want to empty the fridge
  • feeling irritable 
  • experiencing mood swings 
  • having trouble concentrating 
  • withdrawing from friends and family 
  • feeling hopeless, guilty and/or angry
  • having thoughts about being better off dead or hurting yourself 

You might be struggling with anxiety if you experience the following: 

  • feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • feeling like you cannot stop or control your worries
  • finding yourself worrying too much about different things
  • having trouble relaxing
  • feeling restless and it's difficult to sit still
  • feeling easily annoyed or irritable 
  • anticipating worse case scenarios

Sometimes anxiety is felt in your body. You might be struggling with panic symptoms if you experience the following: 

  • pounding heart 
  • sweating 
  • trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath 
  • feelings of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • dizziness/light headed
  • chills or heat sensations
  • muscle tension 
  • feel out of control 
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying

Life after cancer

If you identify with these symptoms that go beyond an occasional sad day or feeling stressed out about something, there is hope! You don't have to settle and let cancer drag your down. Rather than cancer driving your life, you can make meaning choices in the face of cancer. That way, depression and anxiety symptoms, even when they arise, won't bother you as much. 

If you need help putting cancer in the passenger seat, I'll be here


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Ada Pang

Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she is cognizant about choices that make for a meaningful life. This often involves food. 

How to Overcome Barriers by Cultivating 1:1 Relationships

My new pet peeve

So I go to yoga about two times a week, preferably three. I love the studio; love the teachers. It’s a great community there. It’s like 83 degrees inside and people sweat bullets, or more like puddles. I’m fine with feeling my own sweat and wiping it but I discovered a new pet peeve: I don’t like stepping on other people’s sweat. There’s something about my bare feet touching someone else’s bodily fluids that makes me cringe. The mood lighting does not help as I navigate my way around the studio after class. 

How I’ve coped

As with most pet peeves, we find a way to cope with them or to otherwise avoid them. I’d scoot around the studio after class, using what little lighting there is to side-step shiny liquid reflections. If I’ve landed on a puddle, my towel is just a reach away. This was my coping strategy, until one day, my world was turned around. 

Sweat has a name

It was a usual Wednesday evening class with teacher Aaron and he asked us to do something out of the ordinary. After some power vinyasa routine where we were dripping wet, he asked us to find a partner to do this strap exercise. It looks difficult enough: you’re doing some backbend with your leg behind you strapped to your hands overhead. Your partner is spotting you. “Bob” and I were the only ones without partners and I jumped to my feet to join him.

We met in the middle of a matless area and started doing the pose with me spotting him. He talked about not being very flexible and fell over. Fa-thud! I’m not a very good spotter, am I?! Someone then recommended that we do it on a mat and we walked over to his mat. He had a towel spread over it and it was soaking wet. “Bob” was noticeably embarrassed. He started wiping the outskirts of the mat where his sweat puddles formed. He might have apologized for how damp his towel was, but I don’t remember.

None of that mattered. I was about to spot him again so he could do his backbend, hopefully without falling. And I had a few turns and realized the pose was easier than it looked. We chit chatted for a bit while waiting for Aaron to gather us in. We shook hands, shared our names and I eventually went back to my mat. 

Why wasn’t I bothered?

My feet were damp and I wiped them off but I didn’t feel the usual disgust. Why? It could be that I was distracted by the pose or engaged with “Bob.” In retrospect, I think it had more to do with the fact that sweat has a name and it belonged to “Bob” and he was kind and personable. “Bob’s sweat” didn’t bother me because “Bob” is a human being I have come to know, for all of ten-minutes. It’s no longer a nameless sweaty pile on the floor that I tip toe around. 

Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to say that “Bob” and I have formed a friendship, but he sure is no stranger. He wasn’t in class this past week; otherwise I would’ve waved. The human-to-human connection changed the way I feel about something I used to dread. While I can’t say I’m now free to glide through the yoga studio in the dark without holding back, I am a step closer to that direction because of “Bob”. 

So why am I telling you this story? 

Relationships break barriers

When I think about my experience, that human touch made a difference for me. It’s after all easier to stay on our “mats” or “pair up” with people we already know and feel comfortable with. But we then miss out on opportunities to get to know an “other,” someone different than you; someone different than me. When we do take that time, what might happen? What beliefs might be challenged? What relationship might come of that? 

At the core of who we are, we’re human beings who breathe, sleep, eat, pee, poop and yes, sweat. We all feel glad, sad, mad, fear, disgust, shame/guilt, surprise, and interest. We are all a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, a friend to someone, somewhere. Our humanity is our common denominator. And, we can be each other’s guide through the discomforts of life if we allow each other in. 

If you ever need help leaving your “mat,” you know where to find me


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

A Roadmap Through Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Reprinted by permission from the ICEEFT Newsletter: The EFT Community News, 9th ISSUE, Spring 2011. Written by Pat LaDouceur, PhD, LMFT and Veronica Kallos-Lilly, PhD, R.Psych.

Sometimes couples wonder “where they are” in the therapy process. We wanted to create a guide to Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that would help couples see their gains, understand the rough spots, and know what to look forward to. The following is one such roadmap:

STAGE 1 – UNDERSTAND YOUR STRENGTHS AND THE PATTERNS THAT KEEP YOU STUCK

  • Step 1: Set goals for counseling. Understand some of the ways your relationship history affects your relationship now.
  • Step 2: Discover and describe the negative patterns of interaction you get stuck in. You and your therapist will track your interactions with your partner and identify where and how your communication breaks down.
  • Step 3: Emotions are stirred up in your relationship, especially when you get stuck in these negative cycles of interaction. Emotions also drive the cycle. You may first be aware of anger, frustration, anxiety, numbness or even withdrawal. Notice inside what other feelings are beneath these initial feelings, such as hurt, sadness or fear. Begin to share these “underneath” feelings with your partner. It is OK if this process feels “bumpy” – it helps diffuse the cycle sometimes, but not always.
  • Step 4: Describe your cycle and recognize what the triggers are. Understand how the things that you do to protect yourself and your relationship affect and may even threaten your partner. Notice how you co-create the cycle: “we’re doing that thing again…the more I go after you, the more you withdraw because you’re feeling hurt…” Slow down your conversations so that you can tap into the feelings that are beneath the surface. Catch your own thoughts (“She doesn’t care”; “I don’t matter”) before acting on them. You might notice that you can hold back your knee-jerk reactions to avoid the cycle. You might not know yet how to pull each other close and you might be afraid the “old way” will come back. However, when you discover that this negative cycle is the source of unhappiness in your relationship, you realize that your partner is not the enemy. You can then work together to gain control over this negative cycle and that already feels infinitely better.

STAGE 2 – CREATE A NEW, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP BOND; CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

  • Step 5: Both of you are now able to talk calmly about your feelings that get triggered by the negative cycle, including things you might not have been able to say before. With less friction and more compassion between you, there is safety to explore your experience more deeply. We all have doubts about ourselves at times and may also have fears about depending on others. You may struggle with personal fears or insecurities in this relationship. You may have had life experiences that make it difficult to trust others to be there for you. With the help of your therapist, you can take turns and begin to share these “raw spots” with your partner. As you take these risks, your partner begins to truly see and understand where you are coming from, which creates empathy.
  • Step 6: This step involves staying engaged and listening to your partner’s disclosures. Your partner may share feelings that take you by surprise. You may feel disoriented or even hurt that you have not heard your partner share so personally like this before. It is OK to experience a mixture of emotions. Start by trying to understand at an emotional level what your partner is saying, without needing to change his/her experience or take responsibility for it yourself. Stay open to the possibility of experiencing and understanding your partner in a new way. Allow yourself to be moved by your partner’s new disclosures.
  • Step 7: Explore what helps you feel deeply connected, what is most important for you in this relationship. In this stage of therapy your therapist helps you find ways to ask for your needs in the relationship in a way that is both caring and direct. You can lean into and reach for your partner and he/she is able to reach back in a loving way. You have found a new way to relate when one of you feels stressed, hurt or insecure. The bond between you shifts, becoming closer and more intimate. You can check out your perceptions and talk about feelings. You can listen with an open heart, be curious about one another and offer reassurance when needed. Both of you have a felt sense of “being there” for each other.

STAGE 3 – USE NEW COMMUNICATION PATTERNS TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AND MAINTAIN INTIMACY

  • Step 8: Revisit old problems or decisions that have been put on hold (e.g., parenting, finances, sex, family issues, health concerns, etc.) while staying emotionally connected. They don’t seem as loaded now that you feel heard, valued, close and secure. Focus on staying accessible, responsive, and engaged while talking about practical issues. Together, you can face any of life’s challenges more easily.
  • Step 9: Congratulations! You have reshaped your relationship. Or perhaps this is the first time in your relationship that you have felt a profound bond with one another. You have worked hard to get here, so it’s important to celebrate it and put safeguards in place to protect it. Create rituals together that privilege your relationship. Find ways of keeping this new way of relating strong.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy has helped many couples build stronger, more rewarding relationships.

Are YOU ready to take this next step in YOUR relationship? Give me a call!


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. She's going through intensive training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and gets regular consultation in her work with couples. While she's serious about helping her couples feel close and connected, she does laugh a lot. If that's not already obvious. 

Two Approaches to Dealing with your Fears

I was born a little skittish. I get startled easily when I see and hear something I don’t expect. I had to tell my husband early on in our marriage to make noises as he enters the room. Otherwise, I’d scream bloody murder, which would freak him out. Oh, and I don’t like scary movies. Husband got into a kick recently and watched the three original Alien movies while I was out-of-town. Good, cuz it ain’t happening when I’m home.

The thing is, we’re all wired a certain way, along the continuum of higher versus lower threshold for fear. It’s not a right or wrong, good or bad. It just is. But, what’s the point of fear? Is it even necessary? Ever wondered where fear came from?

The origin of fear

Too many million years ago during the age of saber-tooth tigers, wonderful men hunted and awesome women gathered. Whether they were out in the fields or back at the shelter, they had to be on hyper alert for wildlife. They were either going to have lunch or be lunch. With that hard-wired alert for danger, those who were careful and watchful procreated and lived on. Those who had a low radar for fear and lived a carefree life did not.

What does this mean for us in 2017?

Real threats

Though we’re no longer living amongst saber-tooth tigers, some threats in our lives are very real. It could be a life threatening illness, an accident, any other traumatic events or threats to our dignity as people. During these moments, our fears make sense and fit the facts of the situation. These threats ought to make us have the automatic reactions of fight, flight or freeze. When our fears are justified, we should take action to effect change where we can. This is for our survival and the survival of people we care deeply about.

Perceived threats

There are real threats and then there are perceived threats. Perceived threats are when you’re no longer in the car accident, in the abusive relationship, in the situation that made you feel so threatened and yet, you live as though you’re still in that life-threatening event. Or, your fears are not tied to something that has happened, but a fear that something might happen. You then avoid places, people and activities that might remind you of your fears, examples being you do less because you fear failing or embarrassing yourself in public. When checking the facts of the situation, you realize the probability of something bad happening is very low, or your fears may be unpleasant, but they’re not life-threatening. What are you to do?

Facing perceived threats one of two ways

When your fears are not justified, it is important that you learn to face your fears. I share two approaches here:

  1. Whatever you’re afraid of doing, do it over and over again.* Not kidding you. When there is little evidence for why you should be afraid of something that has occurred in the past or might occur in the future, the way to overcome that fear is to face it head on. Do the very things you want to avoid with consistency. Is it public speaking? Getting behind the steering wheel? Watching certain shows that might be triggering? Take baby steps to overcome your fears by approaching, rather than withdrawing. Overtime, you’ll feel more in control over your fears.
  2. Harry Potter shows us another way to face our fears during a boggart lesson:

We can have a different relationship with our fears.** Put in its original context, Ron’s afraid of spiders, Harry Dementors, and Professor Lupin a full moon. When they cast the spell Riddikulus and envision something humorous, the shape-shifting boggart assumes a comical form. Followed by outright laughter, they had the power to make the boggart disappear!

While we don’t have this power at our disposal during current times, Professor Lupin’s lesson is for all of us. Can we see our fears differently, and therefore, relate with them differently? What if a natural disaster turned into a ribbon twirling performance, social humiliation took the form of people high fiving you, and the car accident transformed into a scene from Fantasia?

Facing your fears together

Don’t let the fears of your fears hold you back! If you need help facing your fears or otherwise make them ridiculous, well, you know where to find me.

* Borrowed from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy
** Borrowed from Acceptance Commitment Therapy


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. She also loves helping people address fears that hold them back in life. Her favorite Harry Potter films are the Order of the Phoenix and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Her worse fears are, well, she can identify with Ron. 

Why Valentine’s Day is not Always Happy for Couples and What you can Do about it

Ordinary Tuesday

It was an ordinary Tuesday when I finished up with my last client. “You must be in a hurry to get home” and I was like, “No, you’re good.” I was still wrapping up my case notes when my husband sent me an emoji rose. Husband is not the romantic type and I was like, “What’s with the rose?” I was then reminded that today was Valentine’s Day. Husband implied that he brought home dinner and I was more excited about that! As I was leaving the building, I realized how unusually dead the office was. Valentine’s Day must be a thing.

Who took the happy out of Valentine’s Day?

If you’ve read one of my earlier posts, you’d know how deeply I feel about this “Show-love-to-your-partner-or-you’re-screwed” Day. This day is supposed to be happy. It is a celebration of love; often a narrow definition of love. For couples, this set date that comes on the 14th of every February is a reminder of where your relationship is, which is not always where you’d want it to be.

Situations change, patterns do not

Regardless of whether you had an amazing time with your partner, it was like any other day, or you had the hardest time, this Valentine’s Day is a reflection of where you already are in your relationship. A commercialized day filled with the expectation of card, sweets, expensive jewelry or flower exchange will not unearth a long standing pattern in your relationship. I often say to my clients, “Situations change, patterns do not,” unless you intentionally and consistently work at undoing the pattern. The situation could be a move, a vacation, an extravagant gift, _______________________. How you relate is still how you relate.

If your Valentine’s Day was indeed unhappy, what to do about that?

What makes for happy and close relationships?

As you can tell, I’m biased against any one day in the calendar deciding for us how we ought to be. If it’s a value or a desire we have, I believe we should strive for it everyday. If having a close, loving relationship with your partner is something you long for, consider how you can relate differently:

  1. Speak to your perceptions – How you see your partner will affect how you feel and how you respond. If you think your partner doesn’t care about you, you might see the dirty dishes as proof, whereas if you think your partner got sidetracked, used pots and pans don’t rub you the same way.

  2. Dig into your feelings – Anger is usually the emotion that bubbles onto the surface. What’s buried underneath are usually more vulnerable emotions such as hurt, humiliation, fear, and rejection. These deeper emotions, when shared, usually bring out a more tender part in our partner.

  3. Clarify your intentions – Sometimes your intentions do not come out as perceived. When that happens, it’s important to clarify where you were coming from. “Wow, I was late in picking you up and you thought I didn’t care that your bladder was about to explode! If I had known you needed to go pee, I would’ve stepped on it!” (Officers reading this, I’m not encouraging speed limit violation. This is about the comfort we feel when we realize our partner is willing to go out of their way for us).

  4. Notice and own your vulnerabilities – Are you sensitive to anger because your grew up in a home with an explosive parent? Is it hard when your husband shuts down because your previous partner frequently walked off without an explanation? Have you learned to keep stress to yourself, only to lash out when you’re at your wits end because you haven’t learned to cope any other way? These are examples of sensitivities that partners bring to the relationship. It helps to be aware of them.

  5. Share your vulnerabilities with your partner – Let your partner know that particular words and behaviors are triggering for you, NOT because your partner is your enemy, but because we all come with a history. Ironically, we’re often attracted to partners who remind us of our family growing up. Awesome or not; it’s familiar to us.

  6. Acknowledge your needs and wants in the relationship – The reason you get worked up in your relationship is because your partner matters to you. If you’re only doing life with a roommate, there’s less at stake. The weight of this relationship has you longing from your partner love, closeness, comfort, appreciation, and acceptance. It’s okay to ask for these things from your intimate partner.

  7. Bring it all together – As you share your perceptions, deeper feelings, intentions, vulnerabilities, and relationship needs, let your partner have a turn. After all, it takes two to make love work.

Daily loving

Let’s not wait until the next event, the next anniversary, the next “situation” to show your partner she matters, you love her, and you have her back. You can practice daily loving as a part of living daily. If you need help nurturing a close, loving relationship with your partner, let me know!


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves hanging out with her husband. On an ordinary day when they’re both working long hours from home, she likes to go give him a hug and a kiss and tell him, quite literally, “I’m here to connect with you.”