couple relationships

Are You Voting for Your Marriage?

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Happy anniversary to us!

My husband and I recently celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary! On that day, I performed the social media ritual of posting a throwback photo of our wedding. Captured in that sepia-toned photo were two joyful people, kids really, preparing for a journey they knew little about.

We may have looked like a couple of kids... but we were old enough to vote. My husband touched on something important when looking back on that day: you do need to vote. Every day you need to vote/choose to be a couple. The wedding day is all cake and laughter, but the choice to be with one person for the rest of your life, for better or worse, is hard work

Getting through the rough patches

Everyone gets thrown some curve balls in life. And when you are married, you are not only dealing with your own curve balls, but you are also dealing with your partner’s.

When I think back through the past 18 years, I reflect on some pretty hard times. The stress of having young kids, worrying about finances and health scares, and balancing that with a busy career can leave little time or energy for anything else. Even date night can start feeling like a chore. Honestly, neither of us were very fun to live with in those days.

Thankfully, things have gotten easier over the years. However, we often reflect on how thankful we are for making it through those times and not giving up on us. It’s definitely tempting to run away in those dark moments. Instead of giving up, we decided to go to couples counseling. 

We voted to be a couple.

Taking the leap

Going to counseling wasn’t an easy step to take. So many fear-based thoughts went through my mind that almost prevented us from asking for help… Going to couple’s therapy meant our marriage was a failure Maybe we can work things out on our own... or What if it doesn’t work? Ultimately, I realized that sometimes even the strongest people can use some outside help. 

Considering all the objections my mind came up with, I’m thankful that we chose to seek help.

What couples counseling taught us

Couples counseling helped us change the way we communicate with each other. We learned to recognize our pattern of fighting that got us stuck in a negativity spiral. We were encouraged to look beyond the content of what we were saying and doing, and focus more on the process of how we were interacting with each other.

I never would have thought that a stranger could be the answer to our problems… that an outsider could hear the details of our specific situation, and use our story to guide us closer to each other.

But here we were.

We got to the heart of what we were feeling and what we needed from each other. When we started communicating from our needs and genuine intentions, it was easier to hear what the other person was saying. We started feeling heard and understood. We were able to express our hurt and pain, and look into each other’s eyes and see that our pain hurt our partner, too.

Those moments were healing and it made it easier to vote for each other. 

Is this you?

As a marriage counselor on the other side of the room, I see many couples who clearly love (or loved) each other, but they have waited so long to come to therapy. Could it be that the inevitable hurts and resentments that naturally come with spending a life with someone have hardened you and built up a wall between you and your partner? 

This wall can get in the way of your ability to vote yes for your marriage.

We can do something about that. 

Tearing down the wall

In a marriage, while you and your partner are so interconnected through kids, shared memories, and assets, you can also build walls between yourselves when it comes to your own needs. Although the wall might have protected you in many ways from your hurts, it has also caused isolation and loneliness, which hurts even more.

Sometimes the task of breaking through that pain feels insurmountable, and you might give up hope. Separating from each other can be the right thing for you, despite the shared experiences and love you had for each other. But for others of you, there is light on the other side of this marital hardship. Having the strength to walk through the hardship is what is needed to see that light, and feel the connection and happiness you once felt. 

I’m voting for you

Going to marriage counseling is like voting yes for your marriage. It can give you the extra support you need to walk through the darkness and come through on the other side. It takes hard work, but just like marriage itself, it can be well worth the work. 

Let me know when you’re ready to come in and vote. I’ll be here. 


People+Bloom+Counseling+Redmond+Kristin+O'Hara+EFCT+Couples+Midlife+Crisis+Transitions.png

Kristin O’Hara is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps couples find love and connection in their relationship. She also helps people struggling with midlife transitions. She spent her anniversary relaxing with her husband, reflecting back on their many years of joys, sorrows and wonderful shared memories.

What My Husband Taught Me About Self-Care

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

It’s been a while

Last week, I woke up with a bad sore throat. It came suddenly, overnight, even though I tried to remedy it in the middle of the night. I verified that pharyngitis is contagious and I either canceled or moved my appointments online. I also gave the people I had scheduled the day after a heads up.

You see, I haven’t been sick like this for almost two years. I remember so because I wrote about it here. As a result, I wish to get better asap, but somehow, I thought I could get better by doing just as much as always...

But, the to-do list!

I had little human contact that day and grocery shopped for food. I added to the pile of dishes in the sink and later on, made a further mess of the kitchen by boiling oatmeal over our gas stovetop. Twice.

Spending most of the day at home, I thought, Well, there’s laundry to do. I can unload the dishes and empty the sink. I can make congee. I can work on the copy on my website. The list goes on. At the end, I did none of that. I crashed on the couch until my husband came home and I told him I hardly did anything. “That’s good. You’re not supposed to. You should be resting.”

Learning from my husband

Then I remember the times when he has been sick and he indeed did very little. He worked minimally, ate, napped and watched episodes on the couch, day after day. He focused his energy on resting and recovering. In fact, when he’s stressed and he still needs to take out the garbage, he will do just that: take out the garbage and leave the recycling for next week. He attended to his priorities and waited on the less important tasks. 

While I can imagine this turning into an argument for some couples, like, “If you’d only help out around the house more!” or, “How am I supposed to know what you need when you’re sick?” I saw it as an opportunity to learn from my husband about self-care.

Not my usual self

Because I haven’t been sick for a while, I’d forgotten how tiring it can be. I don’t have the same level of energy and my mind doesn’t work the same way. Just because I have the time does not mean I can. Just because I can does not mean I should.

My husband encouraged me to cancel my engagements the next day so I could fully rest. I still ended up going to my morning appointment and slipped into the office for some computer work. I did cancel the date to hang out with a nine year old, though by mid-afternoon, I thought about resuming the date because I felt like I could. I’m glad I didn’t. By the time I got home, I was exhausted again. I was on an unexpected call and did a load of laundry that could’ve waited.

Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson. Head knowledge doesn’t always transfer into actions taken.

Still wanting more

Alas, the next day, I slept in but woke up to learning that one of my favorite local artists will be hosting a booth at the Oddmall in Monroe! We also bought tickets to see Westside Story midday. “Can we do both?” I said enthusiastically, only about 70% recovered. “They’re in opposite directions. It’ll be too much for you to do both,” answered my husband. As if I’d forgotten everything that has transpired the last two days.

So we had a sad, but amazing experience at the musical, got a dinner takeout and came home. I left the dishes and stove cleaning to him and was able to sustain energy until later that evening.

Asking for what I need and want

Aside from doing less and giving myself the permission to rest, I also learned the importance of being clear with my requests, especially when I have less emotional and physical bandwidth. “Hon, I’ll need the pot to make congee. Can you please do the dishes by tomorrow?” This is a more vulnerable and direct ask, compared to, “You’re going to do the dishes, right?” When he doesn’t know my needs, the why and the when, then he isn’t given the opportunity to meet them. He also doesn’t understand why I get upset every time I pass by the boatload in the sink. It’s not just about the dishes. It’s much more than that.

My simplified life

As you read this, you might be thinking, But Ada, you don’t have kids! When you have kids, you don’t get to rest! It’s true, we’re a household of two and our lives are simpler. What’s more, we hear stories from friends that when their kids are in school or daycare, they get sick half the year!

The thing is, while we don’t have little people demanding our attention, the tendency to push myself, to do just as much, to be short with my husband, and to assume that he can read my mind, are still there. At the end of the day, stress will suppress my immune system and an argument with my spouse is the last thing I need when I’m sick.

Flexing a new muscle

As I continue to flex the muscles of doing less and asking more vulnerably in my relationship, I wonder if you might be going through similar things. Just because you have time does not mean you can. Just because you can does not mean you should. 

The counselors here at People Bloom would love to help you flex the muscles of self-care! We can also help you with your relationship, so you can learn to ask more vulnerably for what you want and need.

Don’t wait until you’re under the weather to get help.


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. 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 sick, she likes to eat congee, drink hot water with lemon, and watch comedy. She’s sad to have finished the remaining episodes of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part II

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

No one is perfect

In my last post, I wrote about recognizing your humanity being important for a close and vibrant relationship. You don’t have to be a perfect partner; rather, when (not if) moments of disconnection happen, come back and make up. You will strengthen your relationship when you speak to the impact you had on each other and how things could be different next time.

Today, I want to disclose another secret sauce for keeping your love alive. But before I do, let’s do an exercise together.

Memories of a safe person 

Close your eyes. Go on. I’m not going anywhere. Close your eyes and take in a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. One more inhale; one more exhale.

Now imagine for a sec a very safe and comforting person in your life. This could be your granddad, an aunt, your mom, your dad, a friend, a coach, your partner, your child. This could be anybody. Bring up an image of this person in your mind. What is the warmest memory you have of this person? It’s okay if you need a moment to think through your interactions with this person.

How is this person being, or what are they doing or saying that makes you feel so safe and secure when you’re around them?

Once you have that memory, savor it for just a little longer. It’s okay to hang out there for moment; we’re in no hurry… Know that you can always come back to this place to capture this moment. Now take one more slow, cleansing breath through your nose and breath out through your mouth. When you feel ready, open your eyes.

I’m still here.

The average response

Often when I do this exercise, these are examples of responses I’d get back:

“I remember my mom tucking me in.”

“My cousin washed my car on our wedding day.”

“To this day, my granddad would walk all the way across the room to give me a hug.”

“My sister dropped off a latté at my work.”

“My wife left the porch light on when I was coming home late.”

“My son decorated my office with, “I love my mom.’’’

“My friend left me balloons at my door.”

“My dad cracked jokes when he dropped me off at school.”

“My nanna picked me up and we’d go for ice cream.”

“My husband and I would rub each others’ backs and hold hands until we fall asleep.”

And the list goes on.

Say, if I were to ask kids the same question, they might tell me stories of Christmas presents, a Disneyland vacation or a birthday party. From the mouths of adults, however, very seldom do I hear about the exotic getaways, the proposal, or the helicopter ride. No extravagance, no fanfare.

When I say the average response, I do mean you’re more likely to remember what happens on an average day. Another type of response is when someone shows you an incredible act of kindness during a rough patch in your life. Either way, these are small things, and thoughtful nonetheless.

Go ahead, be ordinary 

Love is in the mundane of everyday life. When you create small moments in your relationship, you give your partner a love bank to draw from. To further illustrate my point, consider the drawings by Pascal Campion, a French-American artist in Burbank, California. In his series, he invites us to take pleasure in the small things.

My invitation to you

Think of something sweet that has happened in your relationship, a memory that brings a slight smile to your face. Now, text your partner, letting them know how much that still means to you. Then, in the days ahead, pause to notice and delight in these small things. These memories will go a long way in keeping your love alive for years to come.

Of course, let me know if you need help creating ordinary moments!


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. A memorable moment during furniture shopping today was when her husband unexpectedly attacked her with tickles to help stop her hiccups. Sure, she could’ve stopped them on her own if she’d tried hard enough, but it wouldn’t be as fun.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part I

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

It’s the New Year’s!

Resolutions or not, the beginning of the year often has us looking ahead. Whatever we did not get to last year, we vow to invest our time and energy into this year. While I’m a firm believer in setting goals and striving to meet them, there is nothing magical in the New Year’s that isn’t also there the other times of the year. That said, any tips I share are relevant to all times, the rest of life.

Moving on, let’s get something else straight: This post will NOT turn you into the perfect lover. I won’t be writing about what gift to get, the best sex positions to take or how often to do the dishes. Nor will I mention anything about showing appreciation for your partner, planning activities together or looking for the positives in your relationship.

I believe a BIG part of keeping love alive is being human in your relationship. Here’s what I mean.

Acknowledging your humanity

When you think about being a “good partner,” what qualities come to mind? Meeting a need before it’s made known? Remembering special occasions? Showing empathy after a crappy day? And in your busyness, how often can you live up to these qualities? Realistically, 80% of the time? 70% of the time? 50% of the time?

Sorry to disappoint you, but here are the stats.

Percentages to remember in relationships

40%

While these percentages were initially applied to parenting, they are relevant to intimate relationships as well. Some of the best partners attune to their relationships 40% of the time. Which means 40% of the time, you and your partner share moments and you feel connected to each other. You giggle when you text emojis️️ back and forth. You finish each other’s sentences. You laugh together and you lock eyes. You’re in synchrony. The two of you got this.

As wonderful as this might be, it’s not possible to stay here all the time because life happens.

30%

Another 30% of the time, couples feel disconnected from each other and out of sync. Say, you look to your partner for comfort and you got the cold shoulder instead. A response was interpreted as criticism or you did lash out in anger. Your partner was physically there but emotionally absent. You were hoping your partner could guess what you were needing but they guessed wrong. Truth be told, the day wore you down and neither of you have the bandwidth to reach out...

Normal day stuff. It’s a part of being human. And there’s hope.

The other 30%

The best couples spend the remaining 30% of the time repairing that disconnection. You come back and you talk about what just happened. What got triggered? Sure, it wasn’t as much about your partner as it was about the kids, but your partner’s nonchalant attitude made you feel alone. You share your interpretations, your intentions and what was really going on inside. You can see your impact on the other and a repair was made. You and your partner got through this difficult conversation and your connection deepened.

A repair is often a very beautiful thing. If anything, it makes your relationship stronger.

Here’s a visual:

Percentages in relationship success Ada Pang People Bloom Counseling Redmond.png

Staying connected and finding ways to come back together when disconnected are the things that will make your relationship this year and every year going forward. After all, if attunement and repair make up 70% of your relationship, that’s pretty darn good for two humans with busy lives trying to keep their love alive.

Lighten up

Don’t be so hard on yourself when you feel out of sync with your partner. The more important thing is to come back to connecting and making up, connecting and making up…

Stay tune for Part II where I walk you through an exercise to challenge what REALLY matters in relationships.

Until then, I'll be here if you need help attuning to and repairing your relationship. 


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 doesn’t see her husband much because they’re both busy, she loves connecting with him with short hello’s and goodbye’s. When they feel disconnected, a first step to bridging that gap is to share the couch together. Rocket science, I know.

A Common Pitfall in Relationships and What to Do about it

Rawpixel/canva.com

Rawpixel/canva.com

It could’ve been us

My husband is a software engineer and he can be very practical and to-the-point. When I present him with a problem, he would try to walk me through a solution. If something is broken, then it must be fixed, except that’s not always the case. Sometimes I just want to be heard without him playing devil’s advocate; I just want to be acknowledged and to know that he has my back.

Thankfully, long before we got married, our pastor/therapist friend taught us how to be supportive of each other. Amidst a difficult situation, Ed would often say, “Tell me more.” If there’s another viewpoint we need to hear, he would first validate, “Yeah, that sucks!” before presenting his argument. While this doesn’t solve the world’s problems, it sure makes us feel accepted and heard. When we’re more calm and collected, we’re in a better place to tackle life's challenges.

This doesn't mean we're perfect.

Back into our pattern

This doesn’t happen often but I remember a discussion where I presented my fears before leaving on a trip and my husband came up with counter-arguments from the get-go. He wanted me to consider this and that. He heard me but I didn’t feel heard. When I’m in an emotional state, it’s hard for me to formulate my thoughts. I finally had to tell him, “What I need most is validation...”

Being the great guy that he is, he realized what had happened and came and comforted me. He helped me down-regulate and we were able to move forward with our trip planning with greater ease.

Could this be you?

Consider this video:

So, it’s meant to be a little tongue in cheek. If there really is a nail growing out of your head and it’s causing headaches and snagged sweaters, I hope you’d find a way to get it out. Your partner is just trying to help. There is a very practical issue to be solved and to not address it can seem ludicrous. However, there’s a better way to go about it.

Begin by sitting with

Suppose the following are common scenarios and their quick-fixes:

“It’ll be hard for us to get away.”

“Just find a sitter!”

“I’m stressed about work!”

“I told you to work part-time!”

“I’m worried about Sarah...”

“She’s a big girl. She can handle things.”

“I feel uncomfortable going to the party.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”

Perhaps finding a sitter or being reminded that your daughter is capable are great solutions, but given the same scenarios, what if your partner began with this:

“It’ll be hard for us to get away.”

“The schedule is kinda tight, isn’t it?”

“I’m stressed about work!”

“What happened today babe?… That does sound frustrating!”

“I’m worried about Sarah...”

“Yeah, she’s growing up and becoming her own person...”

“I feel uncomfortable going to the party.”

“You’re right, there will be a lot of strangers there. That is tough.”

Would you feel any different? Would you feel like your partner “gets you” rather than just trying to “fix you?” If you feel heard, would you feel closer to your partner?

Proceed with offering help

When you feel like your partner understands where you’re coming from, you’re more open to consider what they have to offer. Your partner is meeting you where you’re at and while staying with you for a while, is also helping you get out of that place where neither of you want to stay.

When you’ve had some air time and you feel supported, how would you like to hear this, “How can I help?” Hearing you out is half the battle. That perhaps is already plenty helpful. If there is a problem to be solved, the rest of it is arriving at a solution, together. After all, having your partner be with you in this puts you in great company. You don't have to go about life's challenges alone. 


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang(1).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 hanging out with her husband. Back from the solar eclipse, they look forward to more stand up paddle boarding before the summer is over.

Is your Relationship More Important than Game of Thrones?

Jacob Lund/canva.com

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

klublu/stock.adobe.com

klublu/stock.adobe.com

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

Wavebreakmedia/stock.adobe.com

Wavebreakmedia/stock.adobe.com

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.