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Licensed Psychologist

Healthy Love vs Unhealthy Love

Originally posted at ImagoRelationshipsWork.com Falling in love and staying in love both require giving a part of yourself away, but healthy love is not demanding or uncompromising.
  • Healthy love allows you to be your best self and socialize with colleagues, friends, and family.
  • Healthy love is not controlling or dependent.
  • Healthy love is ever-changing and growing in subtle ways.
  • Positive love encourages and is kind and thoughtful of the other. It is honest and supportive.
  • If you are in love with someone who requires you to alter your personality, goals or wants you all to themself, this is not healthy.
  • If you are staying in a relationship purely because you are afraid of being alone, this is not real love.
  • When either of the partners in a relationship is always controlling or untruthful, this is unhealthy.

In a healthy relationship, communication and honesty are vital players.

There is lots of trust and little room for jealousy. Jealousy is a tricky emotion. It can fool people into thinking - "He must love me because he is jealous." Unless your partner has given you a reason to feel jealous, for example, he/she is a chronic liar, has been caught cheating, you should be able to manage your jealous feelings. It's normal to feel a twinge of jealousy on occasion. If you are experiencing jealousy 24/7, you need to look into the reasons. Often jealousy is a sign of insecurity or lack of knowing and accepting yourself. Healthy love includes loving yourself, as well.

If you are obsessed with the person you love and have no interest in spending time with anyone else, that is not healthy.

Most of us want to spend a good portion of our time with the person we love, yet there needs to be a balance. Each of us needs to cultivate friendships that are healthy, genuine, and interesting. Obsessive love is all-consuming and is based on negative emotions such as fear, jealousy, anxiety. In healthy relationships, you can disagree without fear of the person leaving or retaliating. It is not normal or healthy to feel you have to be agreeable all of the time, or else. Loving another is about the give and take. Lopsided love is unbalanced.

When two healthy people are in love, their relationship does not wholly define them.

You want to be developing yourself, both interior and exterior. If all of your self worth is wrapped up in your relationship, this is not healthy. Partners each bring something to share at the table. If you have neglected yourself, it is time to rediscover who you are as an individual. Develop your likes and passions, give yourself credit, take risks, and make changes that are important to you. “A healthy relationship will never make you give up your friends, your dreams, or your dignity…” Dinkar Kalotra.

Be honest with yourself when it comes to your love relationship.

  • Is it healthy, or does it need modifying?
  • Is there mutual respect?
Remember, too, that no relationship is perfect. It is often about loving through imperfections and knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy love.

What Do Women Want

Originally written by Deborah Fox, MSW What do women want?" is an age-old question that rolls off the tongue of many men with alarming regularity. The nods of other men confirm the mystery. Women will be happy to tell you if you ask. And men have. What keeps the mystery going is that the answers are so different from how men think and operate that they're too often tossed out simply because the answers don't seem to make sense. Knowing what makes women tick is discoverable, but you need to suspend your beliefs about what you think she wants and be prepared to be impacted.

A woman wants to be understood for who she is, how she thinks, what's important to her, how she feels, and why she feels what she feels.

Tip #1 - Listening

Understanding can't happen without listening, really listening means being fully attentive. It means putting aside your frame of reference. It means checking your assumptions at the door. It means not interrupting. It means saying, "Help me understand why you felt dismissed?" If you ask, "Do you think you could've done...?," she'll feel abandoned. She'll let you know if she wants your help to problem-solve. Shaking your head, glancing at your phone, looking away lets her know that you're not listening to what she has to say. She gets the message you're judging her, disagreeing with her, and just waiting until she's done talking so you can tell her so. You may think you're not helpful by just listening because this isn't what men want or do. Women tend to find their way to a solution by sharing their stories. And she will ask for help if she trusts you to help her brainstorm and not take over by telling her what she should do. When my six-year-old daughter recounted the playground drama of the day at dinner one night, my husband asked her if she wanted to call her friend Susie to say something about what had transpired that day. My daughter and I looked at him as if he'd suddenly grown three horns. She and I understood that what she wanted was simply to share the story and be heard. The woman in your life needs you to tune into her emotions, not merely the facts of a situation. Men tend to be very uncomfortable when their partner is distressed. They feel their job is to make their partner feel better, so they rush into righting the wrong. This skips over what women need most, which is for their feelings to be acknowledged and understood. Period. It's highly unlikely that you woke up that morning and said to yourself, "Hmm . . .how can I hurt Stacy today?" Of course not. But you did, unintentionally, by not listening.

Tip #2 - Trustworthiness

A woman wants you to be trustworthy. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Do what you say you're going to do. She needs to feel secure with you. Be a safe person for her to be vulnerable. Don't judge or placate. She wants you to have her back. Stand up for her if there's a potential for her to be embarrassed. Be protective. A woman steps out into the world with an eye out for danger and lives with a heightened degree of vulnerability that is her "normal."

Tip #3 - Sexuality

Women do want to be desired sexually by their chosen partner. This can be a complicated one for men. You might be understandably confused about how to find a balance between being considerate and being passionate. It can be confusing when you hear women want a sensitive man and capable of talking about his feelings. It's not such a leap for you to assume this means she wants a gentle lover---and this might be true. Women can seem to be a walking contradiction because this same woman may want to be ravished or desired passionately by her partner. The answer to this mystery is good communication. Talking about sex is uncomfortable for many people, but the alternative is literally and figuratively groping in the dark. In Dr. Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, she writes that stress, mood, fatigue, trust, and body image are central to the sexuality of a majority of women, not just peripheral factors. For these women, understanding that openness to sex is context-dependent and that everyday life affects that context is vital. The source of sexual desire is often relational for women. They don't tend to be frequently struck with desire walking down the street on a given day. However, a shared activity, a conversation, flirtatious banter, an affectionate note are door openers for her to feel desire. You might have to enlarge your definition of what it means to be a good lover. Men tend to make assumptions about what is satisfying to a woman, which she often finds oppressive. Again, ask her.

Tip #4 - Being Your Priority

She needs to feel she's a priority to you. Let her know she matters to you. When you have some good news, please share it with her first. When you have a problem, go to her first. Ask her what makes her feel loved. You may think that doing household chores shows your love, but perhaps what makes her feel loved is spending quality time with you or hearing what you appreciate about her. If she's distressed, assume it's something for the two of you to resolve together. Put your relationship at the top of your "to-do" list, not something you attend to after...everything else. We learn what we observe in our families as children and adopt tons of mythology from our peers and the media. With the growth in understanding of yourself and your partner, your relationship can become secure and satisfying.

What should you expect from Couples Therapy?

Tip #1 - Better Communication.

You should learn new skills to help you communicate more effectively and navigate the relationship road's inevitable bumps. In Imago, we use the "Intentional Dialogue" as our primary tool. This method has been used and refined for over 25 years, and has been the standard by which many other approaches have followed. You will learn to listen deeply to your partner and manage your reactivity in ways that allow both of you to feel safe, heard, and understood. This is an essential skill that leads to relationship success.

Tip #2 - Truly Understand the Core Issues

You should gain an understanding of your "core issues."  In my experience, every relationship has just 2 or 3 core issues that come up over and over again. These issues can turn what is essentially a great relationship into a nightmare! When these issues get triggered, we can become so hurt and angry that we forget all of what is good in the relationship. Some common issues include:
  • Feeling criticized
  • Feeling under-appreciated
  • Feeling disconnected to our partner
  • Feeling smothered by our partner
  • Feeling controlled by our partner
  • Losing our sense of independence or sense of "Self" and so on.
Couples therapy will help you identify what the core issues are that are operating in your relationship. It will also help you understand why those issues are there and how you can not only end the pain but also get your needs met in ways that you may have never experienced before in your life!

Tip #3 - Relationship Growth.

You should learn how to grow in your relationship. We believe that relationship is both our greatest source of satisfaction and our greatest source of challenge. Intimate relationships often force us out of our comfort zone. They require us to see the world through our partner's eyes and to "stretch" into parts of ourselves that may be undeveloped. For example, if your partner is the more "emotional" one in the relationship, they may be calling you to stretch into awareness of your own feelings and emotions. If your partner is the more logical/rational one in the relationship, you may be called on to learn to contain your emotional reactions and to develop your rational side further. When we stretch to meet our partner's needs, we "grow ourselves up." But first, we have to…

Tip #4 - Learn to be a more generous, loving, and giving partner.

Marriage or couples counseling is not just about solving problems or resolving conflict. It will also help you enhance the positives deepening your connection, and your ability to give and receive love more fully. We can all learn to be more loving, generous, patient, accepting, and so on. I hope these four tips help you and your partner get more connected and grow your relationship.  Every couple is different, and effective therapy will address your particular needs as a couple. It is more flexible now than ever with online therapy for couples as well. I am hopeful these general principles that I have found to apply for most couples and most couples therapy are helpful.

Boundaries

"Good fences make good neighbors." This famous quote by Robert Frost simple refers to the need for healthy boundaries in all relationships.  Boundaries are a separation indicating where you end and where someone else begins.  They reflect how you want to be treated in your relationships and they need to be vocalized. Is it OK to open your partner's mail?  Or go to his/her wallet?  Or read his/her e mail?  Your answer to these questions may be based upon the way that these situations were handled in the family that you grew up in.  For some of us such behaviors were commonplace, while for others of you they are taboo.  In fact, all of them are boundary violations. If you were used to not having your boundaries respected as a child, you may be more likely to ignore or put up with them with them as an adult. Setting boundaries is really an expression of valuing yourself and your needs.  Boundaries are an essential part of any healthy relationship.  When they exist, safe trusting relationships can be created.  In their absence there can be hurt and feeling of violation. It is important that they be stated clearly.  For example. One partner may say, "I need to get to sleep early so that I can get up early tomorrow morning."Or, "If you want to be with me, this is how I want to be treated or spoken to."Some people may view making this kind of statement as selfish.  They may worry that they will be rejected or abandoned if they do so. They may assume that their partner automatically knows their wants and needs.  Or they may expect others to feel the same way that they do. In fact, none of these are true. Healthy boundaries involve speaking up when we feel ignored and advocating for ourselves.  For example, "I feel disrespected when my privacy is ignored." Or, "I am not ok with you speaking to me in a condescending manner or being verbally abusive." Setting of boundaries is a constantly evolving process.  They must be stated and maintained.  When they are stated but blurred or ignored, a partner may feel less important,used or manipulated. Clear communication allows them to be understood.  When that is not the case, you may erroneously assume that the other person is not trying. Boundary statements need not be delivered harshly so that they are perceived as criticism. They can be stated simply. For example, "I need time twice a week to practice my music."  Or, "I want to have some quality time with you every evening."  Or, "I need to spend time with my children twice month. Or, "I want to have some of my own money." Some boundaries may be deal breakers.  For example, cheating is a boundary violation.  As people find a way to respect each other’s needs, they are setting themselves up for a more successful relationship or friendship.

Containment in Relationships

While the vicissitudes of ordinary discourse in relationships may be easy for many of us, this is by no means the case for everyone. What can we make of the times when words are not treated as simply the best tools we’ve come up with for communicating our private experiences to others, but instead serve as triggers in relationships- triggers that can lead one to feel quite threatened or to feel the need to marshal whatever defenses may be available in one’s arsenal? What can we do when seemingly ordinary attempts at communication lead to feelings of humiliation, woundedness, or unbidden vulnerability? Unfortunate circumstances such as a history of trauma in relationships, bullying, or chronic humiliation are only a few of the things that can lead a person to feel a sense of danger about making contact with another person’s point of view. Rather than experiencing another’s perspective as food for thought, an opportunity for meaningful reflection or increased intimacy, or helpful feedback about one’s interaction with the external world- those of us wounded by past traumas may at times experience others’ ideas as weapons of destruction that can lead to painful and concrete outcomes such as disruptions in the ability to think, the visceral experience of being slapped in the face, a rush of adrenaline or “out of control” emotion, or even physiological distress/illness. And since meaningful relationships typically require a level of communication that involves a regular open exchange between oneself and others, relationships can be a minefield for those who experience the other person’s mind as a potential source of danger and distress. This is, of course, not only difficult for the one who feels so raw to the other’s impact, but is also difficult for the partner or loved one in relationship with such a person. It is certainly not easy to speak freely of one’s impressions, needs, or observations- only to have this easy conversational flow be treated as an act of aggression or a threat. It is also not easy to be on the receiving end of defenses such as rage, counter-attack, or distance and withdrawal. And so, the fate of a conversation between two partners very much depends on each person’s ability (not just willingness!) to hear and take in the other’s communications without feeling unduly threatened, as well as each partner’s ability to accommodate to the other’s capacities (or lack of capacity) to do the same. One partner may need to learn how to tone down a sense of reactivity to the other’s communications; the other may need to figure out how to speak in a way that will expand his loved one’s tenuous ability to hear and to be aware. Whether it’s feedback about oneself that is felt to be painful; awareness of the other’s needs, separateness, or vulnerability; or even perhaps just the unknown of what we may come to feel, know, or remember when talking with another, finding ways to help the people we love most be able to stretch their capacities to listen and to know, is often a task left to the one who is perhaps a little less wounded- or vulnerable- in the moment. (And of course the one who finds himself positioned in the more vulnerable position can shift from one minute to the next!) So, how do we take some of the sting out of talking, thinking, and listening? One of my favorite techniques is the simple one of “asking permission”. By the simple act of asking another’s permission before we offer our thoughts, we avoid catching the person off-guard; we give the other a sense of healthy control; and we create a sense of receptivity which can open up space for our words can to enter willingly and gently, rather than by force. We can also communicate in ways that allow the other to “save face”, whether it’s during a shared parallel activity (like cooking together in the kitchen) or while sitting side by side (in the car, for example), easing the pressure often demanded by direct face to face communication. We might use metaphor, stories about our own selves, or open-ended comments that reduce the sense of threat that the other may experience from a more direct communication. Perhaps the best gift we can give another is to simply hold stuff inside ourselves until the other is truly ready for us to share it. Processing and containing our own thoughts, feelings, and perspective until the time seems right to “put it out there”, can give those we love the much needed space they may need in order to heal from past assaults and impingements to their own sense of self and integrity of being…allowing them slowly to trust that inviting in another may actually be a rewarding experience rather than a threatening one. Is this a gift you can give to those who need it most? Originally posted on Goldstein Therapy- Clifton, NJ

Mother's Day or Doomsday

Mother's Day. Images of mothers and happy children are everywhere. It seems that everyone is part of this joyous celebration. Everyone, that is, except the woman who has not been able to conceive. For her, Mother's Day is a nightmare, a painful reminder of her failure. She feels disappointed in herself, disillusioned that her body has betrayed her, and defective as a woman. Men have been socialized to think of parenthood as one possible ingredient in their traditional adult roles; girls are programmed to think of the achievement of motherhood as an absolute necessity to their identity as adult women. They perceive a threat to their ability to become mothers as a threat to their ability to be seen as legitimate adult females. No other activity can substitute for it. A woman without children often feels cheated, angry, depressed, jealous and anxious. She doesn't have what she's dreamed of all her life. Her body isn't cooperating with her desire to become a mother. She feels like a failure. She is jealous of people who have children, and guilty for feeling jealous. She is tired of all of the questions and advice from family, friends, and even strangers. She is frustrated that the medical tests and procedures have not worked. Each month she rides an emotional roller coaster first hopeful and then devastated. Caught up in the quest to have a child, women forget that they are anything other than childless. It is important for infertile women to reclaim their lives, regain control and once again feel joy and meaning in their lives. There are powerful psychological tools that women can use to help themselves. They can learn to change their negative thoughts. They can learn how to nourish themselves. They can improve communication with their spouses. These techniques have helped many women feel more optimistic, and less anxious and stressed. They feel better, their lives feel more meaningful, and sometimes, once they have have done these things, they may find themselves pregnant.

The Flight from Conversation

We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we're on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it's hard, but it can be done. Over the past 15 years, I've studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I've learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. We've become accustomed to a new way of being "alone together." Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party. Our colleagues want to go to that board meeting but pay attention only to what interests them. To some this seems like a good idea, but we can end up hiding from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another. A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn't stop by to talk; he doesn't call. He says that he doesn't want to interrupt them. He says they're "too busy on their e-mail." But then he pauses and corrects himself. "I'm not telling the truth. I'm the one who doesn't want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I'd rather just do things on my BlackBerry." A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, "Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation." In today�s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny ouch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. "Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits." With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken. In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people - carefully kept at bay. We can't get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.
Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little - just right. Human relationships are rich; they're messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it's a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference. We are tempted to think that our little "sips" of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don't. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places - in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, "I am thinking about you." Or even for saying, "I love you." But connecting in sips doesn't work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another. In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it's derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another's point of view. FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, "We are consumed with that which we were nourished by."

Infertility and the Mind-Body Connection

Couples in distress may disagree about sexual issues, romance, money, or infidelity. They criticize and blame each other, and often cannot let go of painful incidents or arguments from years past. They are quick to bring up grievances with their partner but are unable to listen and truly hear what their partner has to say. What is going on?

Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, believe that the root of the problem is that the partners do not have an adequate emotional connection. They state that the need for a safe emotional connection is basic to all relationships. When that connection is present, partners feel safe with each other, and can risk emotional vulnerability as they listen and speak to each other openly about their feelings and needs. When safe connections are lost, partners seek to protect themselves and avoid hurt. They may blame each other, or even get aggressive in an effort to get a response. Alternately, they may shut down and try not to care. If the reconnection does not occur, their struggle intensifies, continues, and becomes more painful.

Think about the messages that you have received from important people in your life about closeness and trust. What did your past relationships teach you? Did you see loved ones as reliable or untrustworthy? Was your voice heard and listen to, or were you told to be "seen and not heard?" Did you learn to distance yourself, or not need others because depending on others was dangerous? Were you taught that it is weak to need closeness, or support? What strategies did you use in past relationships when things went wrong? When you felt alone or disconnected in your present relationship did you become very emotional and demanding, or were you more likely to shut down? How well do these patterns work for you in your relationships?

Relationships are never easy but as you become aware of your dysfunctional behavior patterns, you have the power to change them. You can make your relationships more meaningful by learning a new way of relating to one another. As you develop healthy communication patterns you will be building trust and allowing rewarding emotional connections.

Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson
Making Marriage Simple, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen Hunt, PhD

Emotional Connections

Couples in distress may disagree about sexual issues, romance, money, or infidelity. They criticize and blame each other, and often cannot let go of painful incidents or arguments from years past. They are quick to bring up grievances with their partner but are unable to listen and truly hear what their partner has to say. What is going on? Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, believe that the root of the problem is that the partners do not have an adequate emotional connection. They state that the need for a safe emotional connection is basic to all relationships. When that connection is present, partners feel safe with each other, and can risk emotional vulnerability as they listen and speak to each other openly about their feelings and needs. When safe connections are lost, partners seek to protect themselves and avoid hurt. They may blame each other, or even get aggressive in an effort to get a response. Alternately, they may shut down and try not to care. If the reconnection does not occur, their struggle intensifies, continues, and becomes more painful. Think about the messages that you have received from important people in your life about closeness and trust. What did your past relationships teach you? Did you see loved ones as reliable or untrustworthy? Was your voice heard and listen to, or were you told to be "seen and not heard?" Did you learn to distance yourself, or not need others because depending on others was dangerous? Were you taught that it is weak to need closeness, or support? What strategies did you use in past relationships when things went wrong? When you felt alone or disconnected in your present relationship did you become very emotional and demanding, or were you more likely to shut down? How well do these patterns work for you in your relationships? Relationships are never easy but as you become aware of your dysfunctional behavior patterns, you have the power to change them. You can make your relationships more meaningful by learning a new way of relating to one another. As you develop healthy communication patterns you will be building trust and allowing rewarding emotional connections. Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson Making Marriage Simple, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen Hunt, PhD
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